Winter Park Ski Shop

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: Grand County

Grand County Trivia

After 1879 there were no Native Americans in Grand County.

In the 1800, the leading cause of death in Grand County was accidents followed by pneumonia.

Between 1887 and 1902, Grand County had no divorces.

The total resident population of Grand County in 1900 was 741.  The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Winters in Grand County often were severe, but nothing as terrible as the winter of 1898-1899.  Warm weather preceded the storm which began on February 2nd.  Four feet of snow fell by that first evening and the residents did not see the sun for the rest of the month as the snow continued to fall.  The snow continued into March and April and while few residents died, but the loss of livestock was tremendous.

Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger spent quite a bit of time in Grand County and has been cited as "one of the three or four most able, influential, and best known mountain men' according to historian Dan Thrapp.  Born in Virginia in 1804, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St Louis at the age of fourteen, and in 1822, left to join Ashley's fur trading operation in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. He claimed to have discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824, believing it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.  He was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, along with Tom Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. 

While Bridger was illiterate, he was noted for both his intimate knowledge of the Rocky Mountains and his prevarications to impress newcomers.  He was engaged in some battles with Indians, but was married to two Indian women; a Ute woman who died in childbirth, and then Shoshone women who bore him two children.

Jim's friendship with Louis Vasquez led to construction of a fort named Fort. Bridger on the Green River in Wyoming.  As a guide, he led the infamous expedition of Sir George Gore through Grand County in 1855, in which Gore killed many thousands of animals and birds.  During the excursion, he would join Gore for luxurious dinners with fine table service and discussions of Shakespeare.  Bridger hired a teenaged boy to read him some of Shakespeare's plays but thought that many of the story lines were just "too vicious or ridiculous". 

He was one of the most sought after guides of the West during his lifetime and guided American troops in the so called Mormon War of 1857-8.  In his later years, Bridger acquired a farm near Westport Missouri, gradually became blind and died in 1873.  His two sons buried him in the present Kansas City, but in 1904, his remains were moved to Mountain Washington Cemetery in Independence Missouri.    Jim Bridger is immortalized with his name being given to many places in the West.

Wheatley Family of the Troublesome

Forrest Wheatley was born in Chicago in 1875 and his brother George R. was born 6 years later.  Their parents were English immigrants, William and Mary.  The family moved to Denver in 1887 where William pursued his trade of upholstering carriages.

 After Forrest returned from service in the Spanish American War in 1900, he and George decided to establish homesteads of 160 acres each on the East Fork of Troublesome Creek. When the expansion of the National Forest land limited the growth of their holdings, they moved to Muddy Creek to the west and ran their operation there until 1929.  They continued to purchase additional homesteads on the Troublesome.

 The brothers had a disagreement so Forrest and his wife Ida remained on the Muddy while George moved back to the Troublesome.  He sold the original claims high on the East Fork.  Later he married his neighbor, Bessie Sampson, and they moved back to the Muddy Creek basin and had five children; George, Douglass, Kenneth, Maidie and Gene.  Gene drowned in an irrigation ditch while still a young child.

Through purchases and marriages, the Wheatley descendents eventually owned property throughout western Grand County and as far north as the Yampa River Valley.
 

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: Railroads

Railroads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Biographies

William Byers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Born in Ohio in 1831, William Byers became a surveyor in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington during the 1850's.  He described himself later as "a mountain tramp". In 1859, he hauled a printing press to the new town of Denver, where he founded the Rocky Mountain News. He also served as postmaster of the settlement.

He was enthusiastic about the mining prospects of Colorado, and wrote endless editorials about the wealth to be found in the mountains to the West.  However, many disappointed prospectors took to referring to Byers newspaper as the "Rocky Mountain Liar".  Among his promotions was the idea that the South Platte River could be made navigable. That vision never became reality due to the size of the river. He wrote inflammatory articles against Indians which contributed to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, a slaughter of peaceful natives by Colorado militia in 1864.

Fascinated by the co-called "boiling springs" in Middle Park, Byers managed to obtain rudimentary land titles from Indian claimants and promoters to establish the town of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1863.

Byers developed Hot Sulphur Springs into what was probably Colorado's first resort town.  He also tried to grow grapes and other commercial garden crops in Grand County, with little or no success.  He invested in sawmills and was part owner with William Cozens of the Hilry Harry & Company "Brand H" ranch.

In 1901, at the age of 70, Byers undertook the ascent of the peak which had been named for him by the official Hayden survey.  The next year he donated land for the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs

William Byers died in 1903.  His fame is preserved in the names of Byers Canyon, Byers Peak and the town of Byers. He was one of the founders of the Colorado Historical Society, which owns the Byers-Evans House, a historical museum in Denver.  There is a stained glass window of his portrait in the Colorado State Capitol building.

Sources: Don and Jean Griswold, Colorado's Century of Cities, Denver CO 1958.

Thomas J. Noel, The Colorado Almanac, Portland, OR 2001

Samuel Bowles, The Switzerland of America, Springfield, MA, 1869

Robert C. Black, Island in Rockies, Boulder CO, 1968

Lulita Pritchett, Maggie By My Side, Steamboat Springs CO, 1976

Dougall MacDonald, Long's Peak: Colorado's Favorite Fourteener, Englewood CO, 2004

Carl Ubbelokdre, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder CO 1972

Alice Reich and Thomas Steel, Fraser Haps and Mishaps, Denver CO  1990 

 

Topic: Dude Ranches

Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble

Robert L. "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler homesteaded the northern end of the Kawuneeche Valley in 1907, setting up his tent camp at the base of Shipler Mountain.  He called his accommodations Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble.  He was one of many guest lodge operators who catered to the leisure traveler seeking relaxation through recreation.  These vacations were quite rustic, especially by today's standards. At least two guests at a time were asked to share lumpy beds. The sheets were said to be "refreshed" with talcum powder rather than changed and laundered.  The outhouses were stocked with mail order catalogs rather than toilet paper.

Despite these conditions, Squeaky Bob was very successful and his hotel hosted famous travelers from all over, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Squeaky Bob was known for entertaining his visitors with amazing tales and witty yarns.

Topic: Indians

Colorow - Ute Chieftain

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

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

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

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

Topic: Biographies

Ellen E. Crabb, Parshall Postmaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic:

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.

 

True Crime