True Crime

Every community has it's stories of the dark and shocking things that people sometimes do.

True Crime Articles

Commissioner Shootings in Grand Lake
Commissioner Shootings in Grand Lake

Article contributed by Abbott Fay & Steve Sumrall

July 4, 1883 was a tragic day of unprecedented magnitude in the history of Grand County. The booming mine town of Grand Lake had managed to move the county seat from Hot Sulphur Springs a year earlier and there was growing animosity between the “lake” and “springs” residents.

On that fateful day, County Commissioners Barney Day and Edward P. Weber, supporters of Hot Sulphur Springs as the County Seat, had breakfasted with County Clerk Thomas J. Dean.  As the three left the hotel beside the lake, they were ambushed by four masked men. After the smoke cleared, it was determined that the perpetrators were John Mills (the 3rd County Commissioner), Sheriff Charles Royer, Undersheriff William Redman and his brother, Mann. 

Day died instantly, Weber died the next morning, and Dean died from infection on July 17th.  But Day fired back back, killing one of the masked assailants, who later turned out to be Commissioner Mills.  The other three escaped.

The sheriff and undersheriff had quickly returned to Hot Sulphur Springs and shortly after, they were sent for to investigate the very crime they, themselves had committed!  Sheriff Royer shot himself on the night of the 15th and his body was discovered the next day.

Dean later testified that Mills shot Weber, Redman shot Dean, Day shot Mills and Readman and Royer shot Day.

Undersheriff Redman disappeared shortly thereafter, apparently shot.  A body was found later on the Utah border thought to be Redman but there was no positive ID.  The body was suspected to be Redman from the size of his feet. Whether he killed himself or was murdered was never determined, but nonetheless, if it was Redman, he was the sixth victim of the Grand Lake Commissioner shoot-out.  It is interesting to note that all three commissioners killed had been appointed to office rather than elected.

Ironically, the county seat was moved back to Hot Sulphur Springs several years later.    

Sources:
Abbott Fay. To Think That This Happened In Grand County!, Grand County Historical Association, 1999
Robert Black. Island in the Rockies, Pruett Publishing, Boulderm CO 1969.

 

Good Eye Bill and the Deadly Feud
Good Eye Bill and the Deadly Feud

Article Contributed by Fran Cassidy

 

The Depression of the 1930's had its effect all over the United States even to the remote ranches in Colorado.  Although it would be difficult to prove that the hardships from the Depression had a bearing on the New Year's Eve killing near Radium Springs the uncertainties of the time were a constant worry for everyone and often caused short tempers and heavy drinking in spite of the prohibition laws.

 

In the afternoon of December 31, 1934, rancher Archie Davis, age 56 was killed by one blast from a 10-gauge shotgun.  William Breitinger, age 70, was the shooter.  Breitinger was said to be an Australian who had homesteaded 25 acres of good farmland with a flowing spring that bordered the

Trough Road
which was, and still is the direct route from Kremmling to State Bridge. Breitinger was known as "Good Eye Bill."  It was rumored that he lost the other eye to a shot glass thrown at him in a Kremmling bar fight.  Good Eye was visited by three area loggers around on that New Year's Eve.  They were Joe Penna, Clarence Reiff and a fellow named Van Pelt. He invited them to lunch.  They spent some time chatting and drinking Good Eye's special brew made from rhubarb. Archie Davis rode up on horseback and appeared at the door.  Good Eye told his visitors he didn't want Davis in the house but that didn't stop Davis.  He entered uninvited with a bottle in hand, which contained spirits.  Davis offered a shot to the visitors, which they accepted, but Good Eye refused to drink with him. 

 

The three visitors left and headed for the nearby forest and Good Eye asked Davis to leave.  There was a history of bad feelings between the two.  Maybe Davis was trying to make up with his neighbor and he again offered Good Eye a drink.  The spirits likely came from Archie Davis' two brothers, Barney and Clint who were reported to be bootleggers.  Even though Good Eye continued to refuse the offer, Davis finished the bottle, went to the horse saddle, got another bottle and mounted his horse.  Good Eye thought he was rid of him but a moment later he was shaken by rifle fire.  Bullets were ricocheting through out the cabin, hitting coffee cans in the attic and bouncing off the cast iron stove.  In fear for his life, Good Eye grabbed his 10-gauge shotgun just as one of the rifle bullets went down one barrel exiting just above the trigger.  Then Davis again shot through the door and kicked it in. Good Eye Bill pulled the trigger on the good barrel later the other barrel misfired. Archie Davis was blown out of the doorway and dead before he hit the ground.

 

 The loggers returned to the cabin and noticed that Good Eye had a bloody arm.  He described what had happened and pointed to the body. Penna suggested they take Good Eye to town and advise the Sheriff.  An area sheep rancher, William Foley, was passing by with his flock and saw Davis' body.  He stayed with the others until Sheriff Mark Fletcher arrived on the scene.  It took Fletcher 9 hours by horse and car to investigate the shooting and get Good Eye to jail in Hot Sulphur Springs.  The Coroner, Cliff Efmoil was advised.  He called for an inquest jury to be held the next day, New Year's Day.  Good Eye Bill did not have a good night in jail.  He repeated his claim that the shooting was self-defense.  The inquest was held.  Along with the loggers, Foley and Sheriff Fletcher, witnesses included Good Eye's friend, Charlie Free who went to the cabin New Year's Eve and again New Year's Day looking for shell casings.  These were presented at the Inquest.  The Jurors included Jesse Norris, sheepherder, Horace Brown, shop keeper, Carl Breeze, bank employee, Frank Jones, rancher, Guy Dillingham, a quiet fellow who was appointed chairman of the jury.  Good Eye Bill was acquitted in short order but the episode caused Bill to leave the area.  He said he was too afraid to live on the homestead.  Charlie Free, son-in-law of the famous Grand County Sheriff, Solomon Jones, bought the property.  To this day there is a sign over the entrance road reading "Good Eye Bill."  The cabin which was partly built into the hillside is still there and the spring still flows.

 

 

Sources:  The Denver Post  January 2, 1935

               Grand County Historical Assoc. archives

               Inquest reports

 

Granby Rampage
Granby Rampage

On June 4th, 2004 an armored D-9 Caterpillar was used by disgruntled Granby businessman Marv Heemeyer in a rampage that caused an estimated $5 million in damage and left part of the town of Granby in rubble. Heemeyer's slow-moving, 90 minute demolition, fueled by his anger at local officials and business owners who supported construction of a cement batch plant, left 13 buildings demolished or damaged and ended when he committed suicide inside the cab that he had welded shut. The buildings targeted included the town hall, the library, the electric company, a bank, the newspaper and the home of the former mayor. The town of Granby was spared any human injuries or loss because of the complete evacuation of the town through the reverse 911 system and many local law enforcement officers who went door to door to warn the townspeople. The town of Granby immediately launched fundraising efforts to offset the losses suffered by targeted businesses and citizens and the destroyed buildings were mostly rebuilt by the following year.

Kremmling Bank Robbery
Kremmling Bank Robbery

Article contributed by Robert Peterson and Elsie Fletcher Ruske

 

The summer of 1933 offered more excitement than usual. First there was a lost child who kept most of the Fraser Valley busy searching for several days. Just two days later, the town of Kremmling was visited by two criminals who came to rob the local bank.

Bank heists at gunpoint were becoming a popular form of crime thanks to men like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. This particular hold-up would be Grand County's first experience with the phenomenon.

A short time before noon on August 29, two men came into the Bank of Kremmling, with pistols drawn. On entering, they walked to the cashier's office, which was separated from the lobby by a waist high wall. Three men, bank president F. C. Jones, cashier Carl G. Breeze and a customer, were in the office at the time. They were held at gunpoint by one robber while the other went to the teller's cage, which was occupied by Mrs. Ethel Hackwith, assistant cashier. The robber forced Mrs. Hackwith to turn over all the money in the cage and then demanded that she open the bank vault.

"I can't," she said. "The door is on a time lock and won't open until an hour from now." Discouraged, the two men decided to leave. They forced the teller to accompany them and commandeered her car for use in their getaway. They had collected only $1770.74.

In fact, the vault had not been locked and the door could have been opened with a simple push. Ethel Hackwith's quick thinking had saved the bank some $5,000, and she became an instant heroine with her picture on the front page of the Denver Post.

The robbers had overlooked a second source of loot when a second customer had entered the bank with a handful of cash that he was expecting to deposit. He was not robbed but was simply forced to stand quietly until the culprits left. He was reported to have said: "I was never so insulted in my life. You'd think my money was no good."

The president of the bank notified Sheriff Fletcher as soon as the robbers and Hackwith were gone. Several carloads of Kremmling citizens along with the town deputy set out in pursuit of the crooks within 15 minutes. The trail led south over the river toward Dillon. The pursuers almost immediately found Mrs. Hackwith where the robbers had dropped her off and then proceeded on with her car.

Information from a passing motorist led the pursuit southwest onto the Trough Road, and all roads in the region were under surveillance. The newspapers had a good time writing about what might happen. One Denver paper wrote:
"POSSE CLOSE ON BANK GANG
Kremmling Bandits Trapped High in Hills and Gun Battle Imminent"

A ridiculous article followed that described the posse as being composed of pioneers of the region, all of whom were "used to the two-gun method of gun-fighting" and were "dead shots with a rifle."

The car was found and later one robber was apprehended by Sheriff Mark Fletcher, tried, convicted and sentenced to 12 to 20 years in the penitentiary. The second robber was picked up in Wyoming on suspicion of robbing a post office in Verse, Wyo., a month or so before the Kremmling job. He was sentenced to a three-year term in a federal prison.

- The above is a short version of the Kremmling Bank robbery in 1933. For the entire story and other accounts of the tenure of Mark Fletcher as Sheriff of Grand County from 1924 to 1944, read "A Western Sheriff, The Biography of Mark Fletcher" by Robert Peterson & Elsie Fletcher Ruske, available at the Grand County/Pioneer Village Museum.

 

Spider House Tragedy
Spider House Tragedy

Nestled on a quiet lane in Old Grand Lake City sits the intricately crafted home of Warren C. and Mary O’Brien Gregg, known today as the Spider House – a testament to a remarkable woodcraftsman and his tormented wife.

Warren (Watt to his friends) was a dreamer and in the 1870s he left his first wife and a young son in Wisconsin and headed for the Colorado Territory seeking his fortune in the mines of Gilpin County.  Upon returning to Wisconsin his first wife died of fever, leaving Warren a widower with a small son.  Holding tight to his dreams of the west, Warren eventually ended up in his native Indiana where he met and married 20 year-old Mary O’Brien, in 1884.   By 1888 Warren packed his new family into a prairie schooner and headed west.  Like so many other pioneer women before her, Mary bore a child along the trail, a second son whose short life would send Mary down a dark and tortured path. 

The family arrived in Middle Park late in the summer of 1888, built a small homestead on the eastern slope of the Stillwater drainage and the newborn died shortly thereafter.  Though the years would bring more children, Mary would never quite recover from the loss of her second son. They continued to scratch out a living in this harsh and isolated land, where winters were long and supplies were meager. 

Warren spent much of his time searching for game and exploring this new country. The Gregg’s moved numerous times, finally purchasing a plot of land from Old Judge Wescott on the west side of the lake.  Warren built his family an admirable house, with intricate detail and spider-like webs of wooden elements.  Despite the warmth and comfort of this new home, and the close proximity of neighbors, Mary’s depression deepened. 

Then on a sunny Sunday in 1904, while Warren was working in his woodshop and oldest son Lloyd was having Sunday dinner at Judge Westcott’s, Mary took a gun to her four remaining children and then turned the weapon on herself.  The children died instantly while Mary lingered on for four days.  The five victims of this tragedy, one girl, three boys and Mary herself are buried together in one grave in the Grand Lake Cemetery.

Warren lived in the Spider House for another 29 years. With his son Lloyd, he continued building homes and stone fireplaces.  He succumbed to heart failure in 1933.  Mary O’Brien Gregg finally found peace in the quiet grace of the little town cemetery surrounded by her children.  Almost a century later, as the tall pines whisper their mournful winter song, the Spider House still sits nestled on that quiet little lane.

Sudden Death in Old Arrow
Sudden Death in Old Arrow

A shooting in the Old West I know was not much like the shootings on television today.  There was no glorification of the bad man. Killings were usually like the fatal shooting of Indian Tom on that 6th of September, 1906, in old Arrowhead (or Arrow).  Nobody called anybody out.  Nobody told anybody to draw or asked him if he was wearing a gun.  It wasn’t a fight. It was a killing.  

1906 Arrow had six saloons, a grocery store, one small hotel and a livery stable.  But two thousand people picked up their mail there.  The woods were full of tie-hacks: the three sawmills hired may lumberjacks and teamsters, most of them Swedes, who seemed to make the best lumbermen.   I had arrived in Arrow the 18th of April that year to work as a teamster for my brother Virgil, who had been operating a sawmill there for about a year.  I was just sixteen. 

My brother Dick, the tallest Lininger, had been Virgil’s foreman.  Virgil had also bought the only hotel in Arrow.  My mother, two sisters and my little brother Gilbert and I came from our farm in Osawatomie, Kansas, so that my mother could run the hotel. My brother Wesley came at that time too: he planned to buy a lot and build a café.  Whole families often followed the first member who had come to these early Colorado towns.   I soon discovered that driving logging horses needed a lot more technique than driving a small farm team, but Virgil was patient, and I soon received a raise to $2.75 a day as top teamster.  

 The town was a wide open as it could get.  My first introduction to the violence was the day my brother Dick fired three drunken lumberjacks.  They drew their pay and went to Graham’s saloon to get drunker. As dick passed the saloon later, one of the men grabbed a quart whiskey bottle, and ran out and struck Dick behind the ear, knocking him cold.  The three then proceeded to kick him around.  Dick’s roommate Charley came to my brother’s rescue.  When Dick came to, he started for the hotel.  Charley guessed what he was after and beat him to the six-shooter. “I’ll make sure you can taken them one at a time” Charley promised him.   I came along just as my brother knocked the pick from the pick handle.  Something was up! In less time than it takes to tell it, Dick had three drunks out cold. 

Mother patched Dick up.  I think this was her introduction, too.  A man couldn’t stay boss long if stayed whipped.   Every other Sunday was a holiday for me although I always saw to it that I put in enough overtime to bring my monthly paycheck to $75. That September Sunday I was dressed in my holiday garb – tan peg-top dress corduroys, light blue wool shirt, Western hat, and high-laces boots as befitting a teamster who drove four or six horses hauling logs from timber country to the saw mill.  When I drove six horses, I rode one of the wheel-team horses and held the lines over four.  If I drove four horses, I rode the wagon and sat on a sack of hay.  

About noon, I stopped in front of the MacDonald saloon to talk to Ed MacDonald, one of the few saloon men my mother didn’t disapprove of.  After all, Ed had come to Colorado as a TB and couldn’t do heavy work; filling glasses over a bar was about the only light work in those old mountain towns.  Later Ed owned the famous MacDonald Ranch on the South Fork of the Grand Rover – now Colorado River- and managed boats on Monarch Lake just above his ranch.  He always served great dinners and good food.   While Ed and I were talking, Indian Tom rode up.  He was a flashy cowboy of the old school, a very good looking man with predominantly Indian features although he was only half Cherokee. When riding, Tom always wore leather chaps, spurs, and a big Stetson.  As wagon foreman for Orman and Crook, contractors for building the Moffat Road, he was a very important figure, for he had charge of all their wagons and teamsters.   The greeting between Ed and Tom was cordial. 

Everyone liked Indian Tom.  When Tom learned I was a teamster for my brother Virgil, Tom showed a much keener interest and invited me in to MacDonald’s for a drink.  Ed rescued me.  “Oh the kids doesn’t drink; but he might like a cigar”.   As they ordered drinks, I puffed away in my best imitation of a Kentucky colonel; however I soon excused myself, saying that I had to target my 30-30 rifle for the upcoming deer season. I puffed until I was out of sight. The corn silk I had scorched behind the barn paid off. I didn’t disgrace myself, nor had I broken my pledge to my mother not to gamble, use profanity, drink, or perform any act inconsistent with the conduct of a gentleman.   I took my rifle northwest of Arrow to Fawn Creek. 

It was a beautiful fall day.  The aspen were just beginning to turn.  Fawn Creek Gulch had been burned over many years before by the Indians who hoped in this way to discourage settlers, and the aspen were all young, straight and shimmering in the way that has never ceased to delight me.  The fire thirty years before had made the gulch an excellent place for deer hunting because the new growth gave the deer some inviting protection, but the terrain was open enough for a hunter to locate his game.   I figured I’d have to shoot from at least 200 yards, so I planned to target for that distance.  I tacked a piece of cardboard I’d cut from my brother’s Stetson hat box (he never took off his Stetson off anyway) to a tree and stepped off the 200 yards.  That 6-inch target looked pretty small but after each three shots, I’d examine the target.  Finally satisfied, I took a long walk looking for deer sign, tracks, or droppings.  I found good sign but no droppings.   About feeding time for the horses, I went back to the barn in town to feed the four, Cap, the big bay, Bird, the glossy black (those were my two wheel horses- t e ones next to the wheel); Kate, the little lead horse; and Bud, her mate.  

Virgil had bought Kate, a grey mare weighing about 1400 pounds, at a very reasonable price from the Adams Express Company because she had run away at every opportunity and had destroyed several wagons.  He couldn’t run away now pulling Cap, Bird and a load of lumber with her, but her high spirits made her an excellent leader. The heavier team, always used as the wheel team, weighed about 1700 pounds each.   I was very proud of this unusually fine team.  Virgil had trained Cap and Bird so that after they were harnessed in the barn, they could be turned loose to go to the watering trough, drink long and thirstily, then walk out to the wagon, back into position by the tongue, and stand ready to have the breast straps snapped in place and the tongue attached.     When tourists trains stopped and hundreds of passengers stood around the eating places looking the town over, I’d drive slowly by, and then stop to rest the team a minute, to give the dudes a chance to see a good, four-horse team. Then with a single “Yup!” I’d pull all the lines tight, and they’d start as one horse while the tourists explained and pointed.  

That Sunday after I put a gallon of oats in their food box and shook some hay into their manger, I left the barn and started up the steps alongside the depot.  It was still light; the sky hadn’t even begun to color.   Time to head home for supper.  I’d have to be up, hitched and pulled by seven the next morning. We’d probably have roast beef or roast chicken with noodles, since it was Sunday.  Mother would be cooking on the big wood-burning stove at the hotel, and my sisters would be taking the heaping platters to the tables where everyone would pass them around.  Probably there would be hot biscuits.  

Suddenly a shot cracked just above me and across the street.  I knew instantly it had come from the Wolf Saloon ahead.  It wasn’t common to hear shots in those days.  You hear more in a 20-minute Western on TV than you heard in a couple of years unless a few boys rode into town on a Saturday night to shoot up the air.   I broke into a run and could see a man lying on the board walk in front of the saloon.  As I got to him, one of the ladies I wasn’t permitted to mention came out and fell to her knees beside him. Raising the man’s head, she tried to pour whiskey down his throat.  With a queer, paralyzed feeling, I realized it was Indian Tom.  I reached for his wrist.  His hand was warm as life, but there was no pulse. Several men ran our.  “Ragland got him!” one of them shouted.  

We carried Tom’s body into MacDonald’s and laid him on a roulette table that was in the back room for repair.  Somebody went to wire for the sheriff at Hot Sulphur Springs.  Word soon reached Orman and Crook’s, and the Indian’s many friends began to jam into Arrow.    Indian Tom and Ragland had evidently had words during the afternoon and had quarrels once more before at a rodeo.  The women from the saloon said that when Indian Tom left after the quarrel, Ragland had stationed himself, gun in hand, inside the saloon door.  Everyone agreed that Ragland knew he wouldn’t have had a chance in a fair fight with Tom.  The moment they heard Tom’s spurs outside , Ragland pushed the door slightly open and shot point blank through the aperture along the hinge.  The he ran out the back door.   We searched the town inside and out for Ragland. The sheriff joined is in the search late that night, but we found no trace of him.  Just after midnight a wire came for the sheriff. Ragland had turned himself in at Hot Sulphur.  We learned later he had run to a ranch down below, borrowed a horse and ridden for his life.   A coroner’s jury was called. 

My brother Virgil, named foreman, took a firm stand.  The only verdict he intended to take out of that room was murder, and, after only a few hours, that was their verdict.  After three days, Ragland was released on $3,000 bond posted by his father, but you may be sure he didn’t show himself around Arrow.  His attorney, John A. DeWeese, got a change of venue from Grand County to Jefferson County at Golden, claiming an article in the Middle Park Times of September 7, 1906, reporting the verdict of the coroner’s jury, made it impossible for Ragland to get a fair trial in Hot Sulphur.  The article said in part: Four witnesses for the prosecution, and seven for the Defendant were examined, making eleven in all.  The testimony of the witnesses on both sides failed to show that the shooting was justifiable.  According to the testimony, the fatal shot was fired when Reynolds (Tom) had his revolver in his scabbard and when he did not even see Ragland who was standing opposite the cut-off. (As told to Donna Geyer by A.W. Lininger)                     

The End of Texas Charlie
The End of Texas Charlie

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Charles Wilson, a punk nineteen year old, came to Grand County in 1883.  he called himself "Texas Charlie", and always wore a sombrero.  He was infatuated with the literature of tough outlaws and with his flamboyant style, he attracted two other cronies into a small gang of bullies.

 

One day in early December, 1883 the gang invaded a saloon in Hot Sulphur Springs and threatened the life of the barkeeper, then went to a general store and pistol-whipped a randomly chosen customer.

 

Threatened with arrest, Charlie challenged the local constable by tearing up the warrant.  The hoodlums left town but chose to return on December 9th.  They dismounted at the Justice of the Peace office and drew their pistols.

 

Suddenly, Charlie's revolver was shot out of his right hand and his buddies pulled back.  When the kid from Texas picked up his weapon with his left hand, he was gunned down by fire from many directions and finally lay dead in the dust.

 

A post-mortem investigation was held and everyone admitted hearing gunfire and seeing the body, but no one knew which of the "leading citizens" of the town had fired.  The jury returned the verdict: "We find that said C.W. Wilson came to his own death by gunshot wounds at the hands of some person or persons to us unknown".  His partners had left town and were never seen again in Hot Sulphur Springs.

 

The kid from Texas was buried on a hill in an unknown spot rather than in the town cemetery.

 

Source:  Robert C. Black, Island in the Rockies, Granby, CO, 1969   

 

 

 

The face of the 1883 Grand Lake Commissioner Shooting
The face of the 1883 Grand Lake Commissioner Shooting

By Amy Ackman Project Archaeologist - 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The Selak Hanging
The Selak Hanging

Fred Selak was a descendant of early settlers in Grand County.  He built a cabin three miles south of Grand Lake where he lived alone.  He helped his brothers in various enterprises including mining, a general store and a sawmill.  Selak was known to be a prosperous citizen who lent money to others and there were rumors of hidden cash and gold in his cabin.  He was also known to be an avid coin collector. 

When Selak failed to pick up his mail for several weeks, the postmaster visited his cabin July 26, 1926. After not getting a response to his knocks, the postmaster summoned an employee of Selak's with a key.  When they opened the door, they discovered the cabin in shambles and Selak missing.  Sheriff Make Fletcher was notified and a nephew of Selak's called in the Denver Police Department. 

As the investigation progressed, a .22 caliber slug was extracted from the wall and blood was found on an easy chair, but further investigation ruled these clues inconsequential as they were dated to many years prior. Sheriff Fletcher conducted a massive manhunt on August 16th and the body of Fred Selak was found on the second day by a deputy's dog.  The body was hanging from a tree and evidence showed that, because of a sloppy knot, Selak did not die quickly of a broken neck but rather suffered a slow strangulation.  The murder had taken place a month earlier and the body had stretched until the feet were touching the ground. 

Arthur Osborn, 22, and his cousin Roy Noakes, 21, became prime suspects after showing off old coins and trying to spend them for minor purchases around Grand Lake.  After interrogation by the Denver Police, both confessed to robbing and killing Selak.  Later, Noakes claimed that the confessions were coerced by the police. 

The suspects were kept in the Denver jail until their trial on March 7, 1927 and Sheriff Fletcher had to take great precautions against a possible lynching.  The only motive for the murder seems to be based on a land dispute years earlier in which Osborn was arrested for a violating fence line.  Both suspects were found guilty and sentenced to death.  After many appeals, the convicted murderers were hung in Canon City on March 30, 1928.  

Articles to Browse

Topic: Mining
Mount Baker

Gaskill and the Wolverine and Ruby Mines

Mount Baker

The Wolverine Mine was discovered in 1875 by James Bourn and Alexander Campbell. Bourn was the brother-in-law of James Crawford, the founder of Steamboat Springs. James Bourn was the twin brother of Crawford's wife, Maggie.  A Grand County recording error forever changed the name of Bourn in the area to "Bowen".  The mine was located in the Rabbit Ears Range on Bowen Mountain, up Bowen Gulch, approximately 10 miles northwest of Grand Lake.  This discovery sparked additional exploration in the area that lead to a number of new mines. Within a week of the original discovery,  interested parties formed the Campbell Mining District which included Bowen Mountain, Bowen and Baker gulches.  Some of the Middle Park residents who participated in the mining exploration  were John Baker, Charles Royer, Charles Hook, John Stokes and the Redman brothers, William and Mann. The Redman's  eventually  discovered the Sedalia mine. Bourn and Campbell  in less than a year lost the Wolverine mine by not fulfilling a grubstake agreement with the Georgetown grocers, Spruance and Hutchinson.

John Stokes leased the Wolverine Mine from the grocers until Edward Phillip Weber, an agent representing a group of Illinois investors, purchased the Wolverine Mine in the Summer of 1879.  Weber continued purchasing other Campbell Mining District claims which created a great deal of local excitement.  Weber hired Stokes  to assist him and also hired Lewis Dewitt Clinton Gaskill to act as the first foreman for the Wolverine mine.  Gaskill had mine operation experience, having successfully operated the Saco Mine, on Leavenworth Mountain, above Georgetown for several years.  A mining camp was built  below the Wolverine Mine that contained a large bunk house building and a more substantial mine office building.

Gaskill, a Civil War veteran of the 28th  Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry,  had come to Colorado in 1868 as a representative of a group of Auburn, New York bankers to invest in mining properties.  He eventually successfully operated the Saco mine in 1873 and 1874.  He invested in the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road in 1874, which was a toll road that finally made the Berthoud Pass road passable for wagon traffic.  Gaskill also acted as the foreman during the construction of the road. The principal investor in the road was William Cushman of the First National Bank of Georgetown. The bank had a financial collapse in 1877.  At that time, Gaskill was the secretary of the road company and lived with his family in the company house just below the summit of Berthoud Pass on the west side.  William Hamill, a wealthy Georgetown businessman, bought the wagon road in a foreclosure auction in 1881 for $7,000.  Gaskill continued to live with his family in the Berthoud Pass summit house until 1885, when he moved his family into the Fraser Valley and homesteaded 160 acres along Elk Creek.

The settlement of Gaskill began when  in August of 1880,  Al J. Warner built a log cabin store in a meadow below Bowen Gulch on the trail/road that lead to both Bowen Gulch and Baker Gulch.  The settlement was also strategically well placed midway on the trail/road between Grand Lake and Lulu City and the Lead Mountain Mining District.  Another store was built in September by  John K. Mowery.  By that October, Mowery was appointed as the first postmaster of Gaskill.  The following spring E. Snell, opened a large general merchandise store that prompted the original store keeper, Al Warner, to relocate to Grand Lake as Al's Place. The town was named to honor L.D.C. Gaskill, the greatly respected foreman of the Wolverine Mine, the road builder/operator and the Civil War veteran.  By 1882, the town covered 60 acres.  E.P. Weber of the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company got involved in the town real estate development by laying out a city grid and offering lots for sale.  Weber's plat renamed the town Auburn after L. D. C. Gaskill's home town of Auburn, New York, but the Gaskill name stuck.  By the close of 1882, there were over 100 residents living in Gaskill.  The most substantial building was the Rogerson House, a well appointed two  story, squared log hostelry, Horatio Bailey Rogerson, proprietor.  Rogerson, would be elected County Commissioner in November of 1882, but would not serve because of a sudden discovery of ineligibility.  Instead, lame duck Colorado Governor Pitkin, appointed E. P. Weber to the post.  Weber was killed in the infamous July 4, 1883 shoot-out at Grand Lake.   

The Bowen Gulch trail lead to many of the  most productive and worked mines in the Campbell Mining District which included the Wolverine, now owned by the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company, E. P. Weber superintendent and the Ruby and Cross mines owned by Kentucky and Colorado Mining and Smelting  Company, John Barbee superintendent. Barbee, who lived in Grand Lake,  would go on to serve as superintendent of schools, Justice of the Peace and briefly the editor of the Grand Lake Prospector.  Barbee's partner in many endeavors was Antelope Jack Warren. Warren was as rough as Barbee was refined.  He acted as a foreman and, by one account, a bodyguard for Barbee.  The Bowen Gulch trail continued up the mountain to Bowen Pass and then descended into North Park and the Jack and Park mining districts which were organized by the end of 1880, to the settlement of Teller City.  Passable roads that could handle wagon traffic were needed and often planned but rarely built.  The high cost of building and maintaining  wagon capable roads in Middle Park was a difficult proposition for local governments and private entrepreneurs.  

The Grand County Commissioners in July of 1877 had declared the trail from Grand Lake to the mining gulches of the Rabbit Ears  Range to be a county road.  However there was little county money to pay for improvements to make the trail a road.  Private investors were reluctant to invest in wagon roads when there was the persistent  rumor that railroads were coming spawned by the numerous railroad surveys that were performed in the area.   Albert Selak, a Georgetown brewer, in August of 1878, organized a toll road that would branch off of the Georgetown, Empire, and Middle Park Wagon Road at the Ostrander Ranch on Red Dirt Hill, and proceed to Grand Lake and continue on to the Rabbit Ears Range mines and continue on into North Park and on to the Wyoming territory line.  John Barbee invested in the Middle Park Toll Bridge Company, a toll bridge company that intended  to build a bridge across the Grand River  above the confluence of Willow Creek and the Grand River.  However, this project languished, and was taken over by the county with an expenditure of $150.  

If ore wagons would need to haul ore to the nearest reduction mill which was over 60 miles in Georgetown, the toll road might have been a financial success. However, the lower grade ore from these Rabbit Ears Range mines would not yield a sufficient profit to cover the transportation and processing costs in a market where the market value of silver annually declined.  So the ore piles grew.  What was needed was a nearby reduction mill or cheaper transportation, like a railroad or a higher price for silver.  Weber had  repeatedly promised that a reduction mill was coming, but nothing was ever built.  By April of 1883 with tons of ore piled up and waiting for transport to be processed,  Weber temporarily closed the Wolverine Mine and laid off his miners.  He admitted  in June of 1883 that the ore from the Wolverine was “rather refractory” and that it would not justify shipment without local reduction.  Some hoped the closing was a strategic move by Weber to trigger a sell off of area mining properties  so that he could acquire additional mines before he built the reduction mill, but it was not to be. Weber would soon be shot dead by his political rival, John Gillis Mills.

The favorable newspaper stories of Rabbit Ears Range mining would continue, but for the informed, it had become  clear that without a major investment in improved transportation including a railroad or a major investment in a reduction mill in the area, the mining concerns were doomed to fail.  Mining claims had to be worked in order to be kept.   A minimum of $100 of labor or $500 in improvements had to be expended each year to maintain the claim or else the claim would be deemed abandoned.  Many claim holders leased their claims to miners to work for a percentage of the return.  Without the ability to sell and process the ore for a profit, there was no return.  The speculative mining investment money began to dry up and the miners and their supporting merchants began to leave.  By the end of 1886, the Middle Park mining boom had  ended. To further add to the decline,  a border dispute that arose between Larimer County and Grand County over the taxation and mineral wealth of North Park was finally decided in 1886 by the Colorado Supreme Court in favor of Larimer County.  North Park was part of Larimer County, not part of Grand County.  A lawsuit would follow so that Larimer County could recover the wrongly collected taxes of $20,000 from Grand County.  Grand County's total tax income at the time was less than $3,500 a year.

Topic: Mountains

Mountains of Grand County

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

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

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

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.

Topic: Monarch

Monarch: Grand County's City of Atlantis

Monarch, now a picturesque lake for meandering around on a pleasant summer day, was once a bustling town, the home of the Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company, and the rail head of the Rocky Mountain Railroad.  The life of this little company town and railroad was very short lived and now nearly forgotten. 

Boulder business men T.S. Waltemeyer, and Frank and Charles A. Wolcott heard about traces of gold, silver, and mostly copper at the junction of the Arapahoe Creek and the South Fork of the Colorado River.  In 1905 they established the Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company and built their company on the assumption that a major belt of minerals extended east through the Continental Divide.  The Monarch Company consisted of several subsidiary companies including lumber companies, an "investment" company, an exploration company, and a development company.  The main objective of the company was to mine metal ores, but supplement it with timber and build a railway to benefit the whole corporation. 

The company had 1740 acres of placer and lode claims; the main mines were the Copper King, Copper Queen, Omaha, Ella C., and High Lonesome. The Monarch Company shipped heavy machinery by flatbed cars to Granby on the new Moffat Road.  They then put an ad in the paper asking for bids to haul heavy machinery 16 miles from Granby to Monarch.  The machinery included "5 boilers (eight and a quarter tons each), one engine (over eleven tons), one flywheel (6 tons), other machinery (from 1 to 5 tons), a carload of nails, and several hundred pounds of miscellaneous supplies."  The task of hauling the heavy equipment was made especially difficult by mud-holes and bridges not made for heavy loads.  Denver hauling companies refused to take on the job and one Swedish logging company from Wyoming abandoned the challenge after the first wagonload stuck in a mud-hole.

Finally Dick McQueary agreed to move the machinery.  To accomplish the job, McQueary purchased several hundred feet of hardwood planks in Denver, 3 inch thick, sixteen inches wide and twelve feet long.  Accompanying the heavy pieces up the mountain was a "4 horse team hauling hardwood plank, a 4 horse team pulling six inch pine poles, 10 feet long, and a four horse team pulling two ton large nails".   The crew built temporary bridges across mud-holes by laying pine poles 3 feet apart with hardwood planks laid across the poles.  2 light loads were driven across to test bridge followed by the heavy load pulled by 12 head horses.  Finally the planks and poles were pulled up to be used at the next mud-hole.  The heavy machinery was hauled in 2 weeks.

Construction on the Rocky Mountain Railway, a standard-gauge line from Granby to Monarch, began in 1907.  The 16 mile line was completed by Thanksgiving.  There were hopes of someday extending the line to Grand Lake for resort passengers and eventually a line to Walden in North Park.  The Denver and Northwest Railroad Company helped survey the line by lending J.J. Argo's services.  Dick McQueary was once again brought in to grade the road bed between the Monarch mill and Granby.  Most of the workers on the railroad were Japanese, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Austrian day laborers from an employment agency in Denver.  The laborers were paid $2 a day, (plus a fifteen cent fee for their interpreter).

Once the railway was completed and in operation it issued passenger tickets.  However, the company never published a schedule.  Neither did the company hire a full train crew to run their single locomotive.  To meet regulations for switching service on Moffat tracks in Granby, the Rocky Mountain Railroad took on board a couple of interested bystanders.  At gates crossing ranch properties fireman Leo Algier would simply jump off the train to open the gate and close it after the train had crossed through before hopping back on the train.  Ranching families on the line were allowed to catch rides on the train when it passed through or to request package drop-offs. 

The Monarch Company created Monarch Lake by damming the valley, at the junction of Arapahoe Creek and South fork of the Colorado River, for use with the saw mill and the box factory. A 2800 foot long chute carried tree trunks down the hillside to the lake where they hit the water and could bounce up to 50 ft high.  Then a stern-wheel steamer pushed logs into a system of canals and flumes that led down to the saw mill and box factory. 

The town of Monarch included employee housing, business offices, a post office, and an assembly hall.  Dick McQueary helped haul sawlogs to mill and haul materials for building employee housing in Monarch.  Grand County's first hydro-electric generator was in Monarch.  The waterworks system was created by piping water from the falls at Mad Creek and had pressure up to 300 lbs per inch. 

Even thought the mining company never produced more than $150 a year, the owners continued to promote the business to stockholders and they were able to keep the business running by through their enthusiasm for the project.  During the summer, stockholders were invited to visit Monarch, tour the site, and hear lectures on the operation.  The tour often included a visit to a spruce tree named "Monarch" that was seven feet in diameter.  So, while business might not have been booming, enthusiasm and interest from stockholders was.  

The last piece of Monarch to be constructed was the box factory in 1907.  Unfortunately the factory only operated for 2 or 3 months before it suffered a fire and was totally destroyed.  Robert Black in Island in the Rockies stated that the questionable promotions of Monarch would have been forgiven if the box factory had developed into a solid operation. 

Soon after the fire, a disagreement between management and labor resulted in the entire work force being fired.  For several months the Rocky Mountain Railroad operated the train with one man who acted as engineer, fireman, brakeman and conductor. The company hired Dick McQueary as general manager until fall the fall of 1907 when stockholders discovered the true state of the company and declared bankruptcy.   Stockholders and the community were convinced that the whole company had been created as stock-selling scheme.

Although the Monarch Company and the Rocky Mountain Railroad were no longer in business, the railway continued to be used for a number of years.  For example, Ed McDonald, dude rancher, put a Cadillac touring car on flanged iron wheels to carry mail, supplies, and guests to his ranch.  The center of town was preserved and developed by the Dierks as a summer resort called Ka Rose, after Katherine Rose Dierks, after the owner's daughter.   In 1912 the rail line was used for transporting fisherman along the river by Ernest F. Behr, a former Colorado and Southern engineman.  Finally, in 1918 the rails were sold to a junk dealer in Denver to satisfy the World War I need for scrap metal. 

Currently, the town, mill site, and box factory lay under the waters of Lake Granby and are inaccessible, except in years of draught.  However, there are a couple of remaining pieces at Monarch Lake that are still visible.  On the south side of the lake, near the water's edge, is a boiler that was used to yard logs into a chute and shoots the logs into a holding pond.  Also, the flume still runs down the hillside into the lake.  The trail around Monarch Lake takes hikers directly under the flume.

Smiths of the Blue River

Frank John Smith was born October 5, 1852 in Granby, New York.  He married Elizabeth Olive Sanders, who was born in 1860 in Hannibal, New York.  They were married in 1878 in Hannibal and had two children Albert and Lelah.  Albert died as an infant in 1881.  In 1880 Frank homesteaded his ranch close to the Blue River and sent for his wife and baby daughter who came West by train to Dillon in the spring of 1883.

They had 10 more children, all born at the Smith Ranch, between 1884 and 1907.  As the boys grew into young men, they homesteaded additional acreage around the ranch.  The youngest son, Earl, operated the Smith Ranch until 1958, when it was sold to Ted Orr Sr. His son, Ted Orr Jr. and his wife, Virginia Smith (granddaughter of Frank and Elizabeth) operated the ranch until 1967, when it was sold to the Berger brothers.    

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: Skiing

Skiing

Grand County was one of the first areas in Colorado to enjoy sport skiing.  While mail carriers, loggers and other workers used the "Norwegian Snowshoes" as necessary winter transportation, it was a natural progression to begin racing down the slopes for fun.

An 1883 newspaper noted that in Grand Lake "Coasting on snowshoes has taken the place of dancing parties.   Quite a number of ladies are becoming adept at the art.  First class snowshoers, B.W. Tower and Max James are the best; or at least they can fall more gracefully then the rest".

According to famous Hot Sulphur Springs champion Barney McLean, that town had three jumping hills in the 1920s and held the first Winter Carnival in the West there in 1911.  By 1925, Denver sent special "snow trains" there for the recreating tourists.  Skiers such as Bob McQueary and Jim Harsh competed in statewide events along with skiing "veterans" Horace Button and McLean.  Grand Lake's Jim Harsh became the first Coloradoan to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team.

In 1932, the Grand Lake Ski Club held its first winter sports week on Denver 25-January 1st.  Featured was a motor sled with an airplane engine which pulled skiers over the frozen lake are speeds of 90 miles per hour.

Colorado's first ski tow was opened at the summit of Berthoud Pass in 1936.  Berthoud Pass operated on and off throughout the next 60+ years but was finally closed and the lifts dismantled in 2002.  

What became the resort of Winter Park featured skiing at the West Portal of the Moffatt Tunnel and the Winter Park Ski Area opened as a result of efforts by Denver Parks & Recreation Director George Cranmer. Early lodging resorts in the area, then known as Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), included Sportland Valley, Timberhaus Lodge, and Millers Idlewild Inn.  Eventually trains made daily runs to Winter Park, loaded with intrepid skiers.  Steve Bradley invented the first effective snow packer on the slopes of Winter Park.

With a strong record of winning high school ski teams, Grand County accounted for a remarkable number of skiers who later took park in FIS (International Federation of Skiers) meets and U.S. Olympic teams.

A later ski area, now know as Sol Vista Ski Basin (formerly Silver Creek Resort) opened in Granby in the 1980's.  World class cross country ski areas in Grand County include Snow Mountain Ranch and Devil's Thumb Ranch.

Topic: Biographies

Lewis D.C. Gaskill

Lewis DeWitt Clinton Gaskill came to Colorado as a polished young mining promoter from upstate New York, where he was born in 1840. He married Miss Nellie C. Rogers in 1865, and raised three daughters born to the marriage.

By 1874 he partnered with William Cushman to build the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road, which opened in November of that year, to the great surprise of locals and professionals alike.  He and his family lived at the summit of Berthoud Pass into the mid-1880s, when they built the Gaskill House in what became Fraser, CO.   For a short time he was employed as mine foreman at the Wolverine Mine in Bowen Gulch, outside of Grand Lake.  One of the mining camps, in fact, came to be known as Gaskill. Over the years there was significant competition between the different camps, and mercantiles associated with them.  Gaskill's was one of the biggest and best.  Gaskill, the camp, survived for about six years, before falling victim to the end of the mining boom.  In 1896, a county-wide passion for William Jennings Bryan and his Democratic-Populist party, helped to seat Gaskill as democratic chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for Grand County. By 1903, Gaskill came into conflict with D.H. Moffat and the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, over property and right-of-way purchases. He, along with Nathan S. Hurd, ended up settling their dispute over property values in County Court. In 1904, upon the death of Fraser postmaster, William Z. Cozens, the Fraser post office was moved to the Gaskill House in Fraser, and L.D.C. Gaskill was appointed postmaster.  Soon after, the townsite was platted and development undertaken under the name of Eastom, but that name was soon forgotten and the area continued to be known as Fraser.

"[Gaskill] was one of those quiet, easy-tempered, efficient persons who can always be depended upon.'" Captain Gaskill (his rank came from service in the Civil War) became "a major Grand County personality."

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.

Christmas at Fraser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Crime