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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:

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: Dude Ranches

Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House

Dwight D. Eisenhower met and married Mamie Geneva Doud of Denver on July 1, 1916. Carl Norgren, a Doud family friend, had started spending time in the Fraser area and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and especially the Byers Peak Ranch for Boys.

By the late 1930s, Norgren partnered with Aksel Nielsen to purchase the Byers Peak Ranch.  During Eisenhower's presidency, the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, the Byers Peak Ranch, and Lowry AFB were all known as "Western White Houses" or "Summer White Houses." There is a well known photo published in Life Magazine of Eisenhower fishing in the Fraser River with his grandson, David.

Eisenhower used his time at the Byers Peak Ranch to rest and recompose himself in the face of difficult political times. As President, Eisenhower dealt with the threats of the Cold War, a truce in Korea, the desegregation of public schools (Little Rock, Arkansas), and the development of the "Eisenhower Doctrine" to bolster the Middle East against the threat of communism. On the domestic front, he was faced with the difficulties of dealing with the Republican Old Guard, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, who headed a subcommittee charged with the finding of communists within the government.  

Eisenhower enjoyed cooking for guests at the Ranch, fishing St. Louis Creek and having "brookies" (brook trout) for breakfast, painting, and playing golf.  On September 24, 1955 while at the Ranch, Eisenhower suffered a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and was hospitalized at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver until November 11, 1955.  His hospital suite has now been restored and is open for limited tours.

The bulk of information about Eisenhower and the Byers Peak Ranch comes from the personal papers of Carl Norgren, which are housed at the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, KS.  The collection of correspondence from 1948-1964 covered a broad variety of topics: fishing, recreation, taxes, health matters, food, communism, reorganization of the Department of Defense, federal spending, etc. The Norgren collection valued for the details it provides concerning the hobbies and recreational pursuits of the President during his visits to Grand County between 1952 and 1957.

Topic: Biographies
, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood - "Gram" Wood

, Gram Wood on horseback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Biographies
Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

Ute Bill Thompson

Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ute Legends of Hot Sulphur Springs

Ages ago, there were many Ute Indians who enjoyed life in Middle Park with its plentiful game and lush meadows.  They lived in peace and harmony for "as many years as there are hairs on the head."

In spite of this idyllic life, there was one young brave who yearned for more adventure and material goods.  He proposed that the Utes attack the Sioux, who lived beyond the mountains on the plains of the rising sun.  As victors, they would return in glory with much wealth and many captives.

Spiquet Pah (Smoking Water) was an elderly medicine man who foresaw only grief in the prospect of such a war.  He spoke before a council meeting, warning of the devastation that such an action would bring upon the tribe.  He foretold " As the North Wind soon brings the snows and death of winter, so will he bring sorrow and death to our own people.....if you do this, strength and peace and plenty will be but for a few; joy will be seen no more."

Disregarding his warning, most of the young men were tantalized with the temptation of the grand adventure of such a conquest.  In the autumn of the year, when they usually did their hunting, the young men rallied behind the young brave and followed him over the Great Divide into combat with the plains people.  As the fighters departed, a saddened Spiquet Pah went into the heart of the mountain "and pulled the hole in after him."

The young Ute men found the enemy better armed and organized than they expected. Many Ute braves were killed and others were taken as slaves. The prophecy had come true as starvation and disease plagued the tribe as there were too few men to hunt for food. The old man sat on his haunches beside his subterranean fire which he heated water from an underground stream.  From the mountain at Hot Sulphur Springs, water flows even today as a reminder of the rash behavior of so long ago.

Another legend holds simply that the Hot Sulphur Springs water acquired medicinal qualities in answer to the prayers of an old chief who has be left by his tribe to die.  The old man built fires within the mountain, and after drinking the water and bathing in them, we was restored to health and rejoined his people.

Topic: Biographies

Ute Bill Thompson and His Memorial Marker

Dark clouds covered the Continental Divide as we looked east from the ridge leading toward Elk Mountain's remarkable view. Cool winds and spitting snow followed us. We weren't seeking the height of Elk Mountain, but instead, were tracking the historic path of Grand County Pioneer William Jefferson "Ute Bill" Thompson. Specifically, we wanted to locate the memorial marker for Ute Bill that Henry Grafke and Otto Schott placed along this ridge after Ute Bill died in 1926. 

Tracking Thompson requires divergent paths. On one hand, Ute Bill's early presence in Middle Park places him in an era when mountain men and Ute Indians shared the vast herds of elk and deer. Only a handful of hardy souls called Middle Park home when Bill Thompson arrived in the late 1860s or early 70s. On another hand, Thompson settled just east of Hot Sulphur Springs as a young man, where he carved out a cattle ranch that remains in his family today.  

Records prove he owned and operated a billiard hall, drove stagecoaches and established a homestead along the Colorado (then, the Grand) River. But tall tales and oral legends abound too, capturing hair-breath escapes, harrowing western adventures and the mischievous nature of a 19th century westerner. Looking through the numerous historic photos of Ute Bill at the Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs leaves an impression of a capable trapper, businessman and rancher who textured his image with stories of western adventure. 

With Don Dailey - fellow historic trekker and great grandson of Ute Bill - along, I hoped to pursue the fact and folklore of Ute Bill. As Don pointed out an isolated cabin in the valley below, a Ute Bill tale from the Georgetown Arbitrator of September 1886, "as narrated at the time by one of the participants," captured my imagination.  

Bill Thompson breathed a sigh of relief. The rugged, hungry band of Ute in front of him smiled approvingly as his long black hair fell from his broad-brimmed black hat. A tense moment before, he'd worried about his future as the small band of Ute Indians led by Yarmony came upon his isolated cabin in Middle Park. Fact is, Bill Thompson's hair had just saved his life. Not bein' cut since the Sioux captured him as a child, it hung nearly to his waist.  

Bill was all set up for a Middle Park Winter, with supplies to last through the toughest stretch, when Yarmony and his band came along. Thompson cursed softly at himself for not payin' closer heed to their approach. "Figured they'd be out west by now," Bill muttered as he squared up to his guests. 

Speakin' through a mix of hand signs, broken Ute and English that most fellers in the mountain parks west of the divide understood well enough for basic communication, Bill impressed the band with his manly firmness and calm self-confidence. Then Yarmony spoke, "Beescits," was all he said. Bill hesitated to open his cabin supplies. "Why, them folks are so hungry," he thought to himself, "they're near certain to go mad if they laid eyes on my bacon and flour." At best he'd be without supplies at a risky time of year. "No biscuits, fellers," Bill said with as much certainty as he could muster, "barely enough food fer myself. There's still a shaggy buffalo er two fer the takin' and every feller's got the same chance." When Bill finished talkin' he looked Yarmony square in the eyes. He watched the headman's leathered face swing toward his rough-sawn cabin door thoughtfully. "Beescits," he repeated. 

Yarmony's band, snuggled in their elk skins and trade blankets, looked stoically at Bill. "Well," Bill said, throwing down his last ace, "seems you're intent on havin' my grub and I'm intent you ain't." Then, regrettin' it before he finished sayin' it, Bill raised the stakes, "Why don't we have us a shootin' contest fer it?" No immediate reaction caused Bill to wonder if he'd communicated clearly. Slowly, though, excitement spread through the crowd of Ute, as the entire band - from the pretty young girls to the big-bellies - looked to one feller. In front of Bill stepped a mountain-sized-Ute feller, creating a shadow as he approached. "Piah," the Ute whispered, breaking into a quiet chaos of conversations. Movin' quick and hopin' for some break, Bill scooped up his improved Winchester rifle as he threw off his broad-brimmed black hat so nothin' could obstruct his shootin' eye. Just as soon as his long black hair fell near his waist, the tense moment ended with a gasp from the Ute, followed by a welcome reception that meant more to Bill than any he recollected! Bill determined then and thar on never cuttin' his hair again! 

As he eased down the gun smilin', all them pretty Ute girls began paintin' his face and braidin' his locks. Bill was feelin' positively giddy about his good fortune. Decidin' he just might owe these hungry Utes a favor fer endin' a potentially tragic shootin', he led 'em to a nearby ravine where he'd been watchin' a small herd of shaggy buffalo. Now Bill Thompson figured he'd repay 'em with meat, and still keep his own supplies. Leavin' the Ute on a rise above the ravine, he sauntered down to the fresh buffalo trail just as he heard the thunder of hooves around the ravine's bend to the south. Settlin' into a remote stand of lodge pole pines, he sat right along the path of the rumblin' bison. Pickin' out his choices as they rounded the bend, Bill's Winchester boomed repeatedly, each shot bringin' down a fat cow or a young bull.          

Swaggering toward his kills, Bill was suddenly confronted by Sandy Mellon and Len Pollard, sneakin' along that ravine behind the buffalo. Not recognizin' Bill through all the paint and braids, Sandy thundered to Len that this Ute feller must "a stole Bill Thompon's gun," because there weren't many repeaters like his. Both their guns were trained on Bill.   Calmly, Bill broke the silence. "Don't over-reach yourself, Sandy." Yes sir, Sandy knew from the voice that this-here Ute feller in front of him was really Bill Thompson. That day, he became Ute Bill.  

Breathing hard to make the final incline, Don and I reached the point along the ridge of Elk Mountain where we expected to find the memorial. There it was, as we had hoped. After a hurrah for our success, we slowly read the plaque: "Hunting Grounds of "Ute Bill.'" As we snapped photos and drank water from our packs, I decided that where historic fact and local folklore meet, an authentic western tale begins.

Crawford

Maggie and Jimmy Crawford came to Middle Park in the summer of 1874 with their three children. They were given a piece of property and built a one room sod roofed cabin in Hot Sulphur Springs. They were probably the first family to stay the winter in Middle Park.

As they settled in for a long hard winter, Jimmy continued exploring lands to the west. He found prime land near a spring that made a unique chugging noise. That sound reminded him of the steamboats on the Missouri River back home. After that winter, Maggie returned to Missouri with her family, while Jimmy built a cabin on the new filing, which would later become known as Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

By 1876, Maggie and the children were back in Colorado, and the family became founding members of that new community.
 

Topic:

Ray Osborn

Article contributed by Tonya Bina 11-07

 

Ray Osborn's father, Elonzo Osborn was also an avid fisherman and hunter, and he and a neighbor stocked cutthroat trout the in the 1920s in the lakes in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. This fact seems to bring pride to Osborn, who spent his entire adolescence exploring the terrain surrounding the upper Colorado River. "Everything in the outdoors was so ingrained in the way we lived," he said. "We lived in the outdoors, and we fished when we could and hunted when we could."

Osborn's maternal great grandfather is Warren Gregg, a settler and talented carpenter whose wife took the life of her young children, sparing two boys, in a story that has become legend in
Grand Lake. His maternal grandfather, Ray Gregg, was a blacksmith and a carpenter. He was also the justice of the peace in Grand Lake.

And Ray Osborn's father was a rancher, a man who was forced off of his land when a large water delivery system came to define the West Slope. Being fourth-generation
Grand County can be frustrating, he said. "There's too many changes. None of them for the better. Rich developers are coming in here and tearing the country up and developing the county. They don't care because they're not going to live here. They're going to get their money and go someplace else," he said. "I don't like all the changes now, they're destroying the natural beauty of Grand County."

Osborn, who had six brothers and sisters, has seen two of his childhood homes be torn down "for progress." The first was the ranch house his family lived in before the Bureau of Reclamation claimed his father's 54 acres for the Colorado-Big Thompson project. The ranch land is now a lake bed, 11 feet below the water's surface.
When Shadow Mountain Reservoir was drained last year to kill weed growth, Osborn said he could still see the old foundation. The government offered his father $5,400 for the 54 acres, take it or leave it.  "My father was broken-hearted over it because he loved to ranch."

With the money, Elonzo Osborn bought 11 acres on the north side of the North Fork of the Colorado, where he kept a milking cow and raised chickens, then went to work for the Bureau as a janitor at the government camps that sprung up for the construction of the project. Ray's mother went to work as a mail carrier, with a route from
Granby to Grand Lake up to Phantom Valley in the Park to supplement the family's income.

During WWII, the family raised rabbits during a meat shortage. "Rabbits were easy to raise, and we sold a lot of them," Osborn said. Ray Osborn attended first through ninth grade at the
Grand Lake primary school before attending Middle Park High School, which had just been built in 1947. There were 22 people in Osborn's class, and he was the first student to graduate mid-term from the new school. The very next day, he joined the Navy, the start of a 24-year career that involved two wars.
"On my first tour of duty, I came home on leave and went to a high school football game," Osborn said. It was there that Osborn met Mary Ann, who was visiting from
Iowa for a few months during her senior year in high school.

After a long-distance engagement, the couple married at St. Anne's Catholic Church in
Grand Lake in the fall. This September, they celebrated their 55th anniversary.
Most of his career was spent overseas, Osborn said, with more than 16 years in
Asia. He credits his wife for raising their four children mostly on her own. In 1973, he retired from the military; his youngest was 13 years old.

Upon retirement, after a stint in
Denver, the family relocated to Grand County, where Osborn worked at Winter Park Resort for 12 years. Nearly every day, Osborn heads to his favorite fishing spots, such as the canal that feeds into Shadow Mountain reservoir, a replacement of the river that once was.  He now brings his grandchildren fishing too, and grandma Mary Ann knows just how to cook up those brookies, "cornmeal and flower, olive oil in the pan, a sprinkle of lemon pepper" to make them taste real good. "Get them real brown," she says.

Osborn likes how much fun they are to catch, and his youngest grandson does too.
"They're like wild trout - you got to know how to fish for them in order to catch them," he said. It's when the 75 year-old outdoorsman is talking about the rivers, inlets and hills he knows so well, he seems most at home. "Not too many people left here that have been here longer," he said.

 

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: Biographies

William H. Kimball

The span crossing the Colorado River on State Highway 9 southeast of Kremmling is known as the Kimball Bridge.  It honors the memory of William H. Kimball who carried the mail over Berthoud Pass from Empire to Hot Sulphur Springs by foot, winter and summer.  Kimball was born in Maine and accepted the Middle Park mail contract in 1875.  Although reportedly nearly blind, Kimball traveled on snowshoes all winter carrying a backpack of mail weighing 70-105 pounds, day and night, at least once a week.

In  1884, Kimball established a flat bottom ferry over the Colorado River near the spot where the bridge now stands.  Before that time, no wagons could cross at that area.  With the addition of the ferry, load of game meat and fish could be taken up the Blue River to be traded for much needed staples. 

Kimball never married and lived at a nearby ranch until his death in 1909.

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