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John & Ida and the Sheriff Ranch

Sheriff Ranch lies in a valley just below Highway 40, 2 miles east of the Town of Hot Sulphur Springs. It's the serene world of John & Ida Sheriff. Old cabins with outhouses align themselves against the riverbank of the Colorado River. They tell a story of the fishermen who once rented the cabins for just a dollar a day-a long time ago.

It's a quiet Sunday morning and only the sound of geese flying overhead can be heard. The cattle are quiet in the meadow as the sun begins to rise and feeding time comes close. They sense the presence of this stranger. The air is cool and damp as Ida comes to greet me. John is not far behind. Looking across the meadow, a calf seems to have caught herself in a fence and to my surprise, the entire herd rushed off to help her. Suddenly she's free and the cattle slow to a stop. The cows quiet down as John throws hay from the pickup. The calves are more curious and come right up to us. One mother cow took off with her young one and Ida called her by name, "Oh, Spook, why are you running off?-she's always taking off! She's afraid you're here to brand her!"

John & Ida begin this morning just as they have for the past 57 years, checking on momma cows ready to give birth and carefully watching the newborn calves. They all have a name, just like children. Two calves, not quite awake, lie together on the hay while chewing on the tender hay. The sound of the cows chewing is soothing to the ear.

A story of the ranch heritage unfolds while we sit at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea and fresh baked date-nut bread.

Marietta Sumner Sheriff and her sons came to Leadville, Colorado from a farm in Keithsburg, Illinois, in search of mining claims recorded by her deceased husband, Matthew. (Many farmers and ranchers moved to Colorado ? the promise land of gold). Some years later, Marietta and her sons moved to Hot Sulphur Springs where her sister, Mrs. William Byers lived (1859 Rocky Mountain News founder, William F. Byers).

The ranch has been passed down from generation to generation since then. John Sheriff was the eldest son of Glenn and Adaline Sheriff (Glenn Sheriff was County Commissioner for 21 years, County Assessor, Director of the State Welfare Board for 13 years, and President of the Board of the Middle Park Union High School). He attended the Hot Sulphur Springs Public School through the 12 th grade. Everyone had to share in working the ranch and John was no stranger to peddling milk door to door for 10 cents a quart before he went to school.

Harsh winters closed off travel over Corona Pass (Top of the World) and the only way into the County was on snowshoes. Middle Park was a tough place to live with 50 degrees below freezing for weeks on end. Many people stocked up on flour and sugar and other supplies for the winter because they couldn't get into town for supplies. The Sheriffs were more fortunate and would use a horse and sled and follow the river into the town of Hot Sulphur for supplies.

Ranch life was not a wealthy profession as many may have thought. The Sheriffs know how hard it was to keep the family ranch. In the 1930's, Roosevelt's New Deal (Agriculture Adjustment Administration-AAA) forced ranchers and farmers to kill off half of their herd to level out the economy. Cow hides were sold for 5 cents a hide. Ida recalls, "Everyone in agriculture had to start over. Everyone was in the same boat. Some people couldn't take the stress and just moved off their ranches-- just leaving them!" The Sheriff ranch was in debt following the depression era. Ranches were up for foreclosure everywhere; banks didn't want them. The family just hung in there until they could get a herd of cattle going again.

Joining the Navy, John served in the South Pacific during World War II, and returned home to attend Colorado State University where he studied general agriculture. He met and married Ida Marte in 1949, daughter to early Grand County pioneers, Liberat and Bertha Marte. Ida is known over the years for her involvement with historical societies, documenting the history of the County, and maintaining original cemetery plots for the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The years after the war were a struggle. With not enough hay to put up and only a handful of cattle, ranchers turned to raising sheep and harvesting crops of lettuce. Japanese prisoners of war were sent here from California to work on ranches.

"We always had to have an outside income ?cabin rentals, John's dad, Glenn was commissioner, and Mom worked at the library to help pay expenses. Once in a while we would have enough cows or lambs to go to market. The Federal Land Bank saved a lot of ranches allowing us to borrow money to get going. We were all afraid of another recession after the war," Ida said.

In the first 30 years of their marriage, John & Ida did not see much of each other. John traveled back and forth taking cattle to auction. When they got married, the ranch was so much in debt that they were "darn lucky that we didn't loose it".

The Sheriff homestead was registered in 1881 with 1350 acres and had as many as 250 head of high grade Herefords by 1975. Pure-bred bulls were purchased from neighboring ranches (Taussig Brothers, Hermosa Ranch, and Lawson Ranch) improving the quality of the herd. Sheriff ranch's registered brand-Bar Double S---is still known to be the oldest registered brand in the County.

In 1984 a large portion of ranch acreage was sold to Chimney Rock Ranch Company and the remaining acreage is where Ida and John live today, raising a small herd of cattle. They no longer make trips to auction. Today, a buyer comes to the ranch.

With no electricity in the early years, trudging through deep snow to the barn's generator was a morning ritual to power the lights in the house. In later years, electricity allowed the Sheriffs to start the generator with a flick of the switch from within the main residence.

The years of struggle and hardship, hard work and the desire to keep the family ranch has been a great sense of pride for the Sheriff family today. John and Ida, their ancestors and their family are a living example of family ranches surviving today. Not many remain, but this ranch, with a great family history, has a river of life flowing through it.

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.“

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Abbott Fay

History and Philosophy Professor Abbott Eastman Fay was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska on July 19, 1926. He married Joan D. Richardson November 26, 1953 near the beginning of his teaching career. They had three children: Rand, Diana, and Collin. He obtained his BA at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, Colorado.

He taught and was a principal in the  Leadville, Colorado Public Schools  from 1952-54, then moved to Mesa College in Grand Junction, where he taught until 1964.

From 1964-1982 he taught at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, retiring as Associate Professor Emeritus and has since taught extensively for Western State and other regional colleges as adjunct professor.

His published works are extensive and include Ski Tracks in the Rockies, Famous Coloradans, I Never Knew That About Colorado, More That I Never Knew About Colorado , Beyond the Great Divide, To Think that This Happened In Grand County!, A History of Skiing in Colorado, The Story of Colorado Wines, and many other books and articles.

Abbott Fay died March 12, 2009 after a brief illness. His biographical website is abbottfay.com.

Topic: Biographies

R.W. "Dick" McQueary

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

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

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

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

Topic: Mountains

Mount Craig

The rounded mountain at the head of the East Inlet to Grand Lake has born many names-from Middle Mountain, to Mount Baldy, to Mount Westcott. It's official title, however, is Mount Craig. It's namesake is The Reverend William Bayard Craig, who came to the area in 1882, to be pastor of the Central Christian Church in Denver. He visited Grand Lake occasionally, and completed some real estate dealings there. The town of Craig also bears his name, due to the influence of his friend, David Moffat, of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad.

Topic: Biographies

David Moffat and the Railroad Dream

David Moffat was a wealthy Denver businessman who saw the need for a rail link between Denver and Salt Lake City. His vision, a 6.2 mile long tunnel beneath the Continental Divide, made this link possible.

He was born in 1839, the youngest of 8 children. He ran away from home at age of 12, went to New York City and found work as a bank messenger.  He was an assistant teller by the age of 16 and  became a millionaire through real estate by the age of 21. 

Moffat was admired for his qualities of courage, adaptation to the “barbaric” West and his goodness of heart. He married his childhood sweetheart, Francis Buckhout, moved to Denver, and in 1860 opened a bookstore/stationary/drug store with C.C. & S.W. Woolworth on the corner of 11th and Larimer.  

Moffat and others formed the Denver Pacific Railroad to reach Cheyenne. The rail line to the Moffat Tunnel was the highest standard railroad ever built in the U.S. (11,660 ft). It went over the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass and came into the Fraser Valley in 1904. At the time, it was the most difficult railroad engineering and construction project ever undertaken. It involved boring numerous tunnels through solid granite, as well as constructing precarious timbered trestles that bridged deep mountain gorges. 

David Moffat was a multi-millionaire when he started the Moffat Line and was nearly broke when he died in 1911 trying to raise money for the tunnel that would eventually be built and bear his name. It was finally completed in 1928. The west portal of the Moffat Tunnel can be seen from the Winter Park Resort.

 

Topic: Mining
Mount Baker

Gaskill and the Wolverine and Ruby Mines

Mount Baker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Sports Center for the Disabled

May 8, 2010 Sky-Hi News

In January 1970, Gerald Groswold, then chairman of the board of Winter Park Ski Area, received a call from the Children's Hospital of Denver about program they'd been running at Arapahoe Basin for amputee children. A-Basin wasn't going to continue the program, and the hospital wanted to bring it to Winter Park.

In his morning meeting a few days later, George Engel, who ran Winter Park Ski School at the time, announced that this group was coming up in a week's time and asked for volunteers. Of the 40 or so ski instructors standing there that day, only one raised his hand to volunteer. Later, at lunch, Engel walked by the lone volunteer and threw a note in front of him. "Call this number. You're in charge," Engel said.

The 32-year-old Montreal-born ski instructor stared at the note while he finished eating his lunch. He had no way of knowing that by raising his hand he had just shifted the entire course his life as well as the lives of tens of thousands of others. That ski patroller was Hal O'Leary.

O'Leary went on to found the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Today, the NSCD is one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world. Each year, thousands of children and adults with disabilities take to the ski slopes, mountain trails and golf courses to learn more about sports, and themselves.

From the get-go, O'Leary had obstacles to overcome, starting with the fact that he'd never even known an amputee, not to mention seeing one ski. The day after he raised his hand, O'Leary got himself a set of outriggers and went about teaching himself to ski on one leg. Being schooled in the Professional Ski Instructions of America technique, he used all the same concepts as he would use for a conventional skier, sliding between turns.

On Jan. 22, 1970, 23 amputee children arrived at Winter Park with equipment borrowed from Children's Hospital. It was a cold day, as O'Leary recalls, and he pushed the kids hard, making them climb up the bunny slope to turn around and practice making runs back down. Some of the kids who had participated in the program at A-Basin had been taught to jump turn the ski rather than sliding it. So they were hopping around like kangaroos, hopping three times to make each turn, O'Leary said. By 11 a.m., kids were collapsed on slope, crying. One screamed: "I hate your guts," O'Leary recalled.

Feeling that he had failed them, he took them over to the lift on Practice Slope after lunch and put them on the chairlift. A few bailed out, and O'Leary thought: ?Oh my God, I'm going to kill them,' he said: "I worried they'd end up in the tunnel." By the end of the day, however, the kids were flying down the hill, coats flapping in the wind and smiles on their faces. O'Leary was hooked.

For eight weeks the program continued. Before long, the television stations caught wind of what was going on at Winter Park. One day O'Leary got a call from the Today Show, which wanted to feature his program. No sooner had he hung up the phone then it rang again, and Good Morning America was on the line wanting an interview. "It really put Winter Park on the map in those days," he said.  As word got out, people with different disabilities started calling O'Leary to set up lessons, from the visually impaired to the paraplegic.

For each new challenge a skier presented, O'Leary needed a new adaptation to the traditional ski equipment. He spent nights at the ski shop working on modifications and pouring over medical books. Improving the design of the outrigger was O'Leary's first challenge. O'Leary made a lot of phone calls back and forth with George Engel (who also owned Winter Park Ski Shop) and other product manufactures, explaining the design he needed, then they would build it.

Another early invention was the "ski bra." Originally made of metal, the contraption slid over the tip of the skis, holding them in place and preventing them from crossing. "The ski still had freedom, but it helped people that lack lateral control of their bodies," O'Leary said. Sit skis hadn't been invented either. So when a paraplegic wanted to ski, O'Leary modified a cross-country ski item out of Norway. "It reminded me of a little bathtub," he said. "It didn't have any runners. It made me nervous. But, people could use it in a seated position, and it got people who couldn't stand out on the hill."

One of the more peculiar adaptive designs that O'Leary saw over the years was a space suit worn by a paraplegic man. The man filled the suit with enough air that he could stand upright, which worked well, O'Leary said, until he sprang a leak and had to be rushed back down the hill. "In 40 years, it's amazing what has happened to the gear," O'Leary said.

If equipment is the backbone of the program, volunteers are its heart. "We couldn't do this without our volunteers," O'Leary said. More than 800 people volunteer every year with the NSCD. It's a dedicated group of people - the average volunteer has been involved with the program for more than eight years, O'Leary said. Just about anyone who can ski can volunteer. NSCD provides the training and, soon, the volunteers are teaching the lessons. Thanks to the volunteer program, a NSCD participant in 2010 can get a full day lesson with a private instructor, plus a lift ticket and adaptive equipment for $100. Scholarships help people who can't afford the price tag. Raising money to help offset costs and provide these scholarships is key for the program's success. The NSCD holds more than a dozen fund raisers each year, although the Wells Fargo Cup and the Hal O'Leary Golf Classic are two of the biggest and most well-known.

O'Leary built the adaptive skiing program for 10 years before it began to develop into something permanent. In the early years, he was challenged a lot by the ski area, he said. Lift ops had concern about people riding the chairs with different apparatus. The ski patrol was concerned about people with various abilities getting on slope. "There was opposition from different parts of the mountain," O'Leary said. But the program's champion - Gerry Groswold, who served as the ski area's president for 22 years, from 1974 to 1996 - held strong to his conviction that the mountain should make room for skiers of all abilities, O'Leary said.

While the majority of those other ski instructors - the ones that didn't raise their hands that day - moved on to other pursuits, O'Leary had found his life's purpose. "It was seeing smiles on people's faces," he said. "I never realized what it would mean, giving these people movement they did not have in a wheelchair or walking. It changed their life. It helped them in many ways with their challenges. They did better in school. They started focusing more. After several years, wanting to give back what they took, many of them became instructors themselves."

For the first four years, O'Leary still had to wait tables in the summer to survive. Finally, in 1974, O'Leary parted ways from Winter Park Ski School, and Winter Park Ski Area brought the disabled skier program under its wings with O'Leary at its helm. That year, O'Leary introduced summer activities to the program, including whitewater rafting and horseback riding. "That first summer went extremely well," he said. "The turnout was huge."

Today, the summer program has expanded to include almost any recreational activity imaginable, including rock climbing, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping and fishing. Programs are designed for individuals, families and groups and are available for all levels of ability, from beginner to advanced. "What we offer now parallels what any tourist would want to do on a vacation in Colorado," O'Leary said.

O'Leary has spent the past 14 years traveling to other countries, lecturing, writing books and working with ski areas to set up programs and introduce adaptive equipment. "It's not easy to create a program at a ski area," he said. "Space is limited. You have to raise money to finance it. But the point is to create choices for people who have disabilities, choices like everyone else has."

In the United States, the sporting opportunities for disabled people have exploded in the past few decades, thanks, in large part to the early efforts of folks like O'Leary. Disabled Sports USA now recognizes 13 disabled sports programs in Colorado, far more than any other state. Although O'Leary, now 72, handed over the day-to-day operations of NSCD more than eight years ago, he still works daily. He's traveled to 13 different countries helping to create NSCD-style program. He's written the book, literally, on adaptive skiing techniques (Bold Tracks: Skiing for the Disabled).

Looking back on that January day 40 years ago when he innocently raised his hand, O'Leary said he'd do it all again: "I've gotten more out of it than I put into it," he said. "I've worked with fabulous people. I've had great opportunities. It's been a good life. It really has."

Murphy Family

October 2009

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said. His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."

Rowley & Just Homesteads

Karl and Adella Just homesteaded on Pole Creek in the Fraser River Valley in 1896.  Della was the daughter of Henry Lehman, who had, himself, homesteaded on the upper Grand River about 1880.  Karl and Della worked hard, adding to their property until by the late twenties, they had the largest holding in the valley. 

This lovely ranch was where Snow Mountain Ranch is now, and their log home still stands there even today.  Their several children homesteaded in their own rights.  Della and her son Alfred had what is known as the Rowley homestead, (now part of the Y-Camp) as well as what currently is the Winter Park Highlands.  Son Rudy and his wife Clarabelle ranched part of the original Just property on Pole Creek where they watched over his mother.  Another daughter married one of the Daxton boys and their spread was on Crooked Creek.

Until the 1950's, just beyond Tabernash on the north side of the highway at the foot of Winter Park Highlands stood one of the original log homes of this family. In fact, this house appeared in a 1952 movie called "On Dangerous Ground", starring Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, and Ward Bond.  It was torn down some years later and a modern house built there.

Life was hard for ranching pioneers, perhaps hardest of all for the women, for they worked in the fields and of course, did all the work of the house as well as much of the garden work.  Little Della raked hay during the season, hoed gardens, hauled water, fished, sewed, and cooked.  She was tough.  The bright spots were when rare visitors stopped by, or as the population increased, dances were held in one town or another.

It was a given that the Just home, like those of most pioneers, had no indoor plumbing.  Nobody expected it and nobody complained.  However, by 1957, Della Just was in her nineties.  Karl was long gone.  Her children decided that she should have indoor plumbing after all these years, and they heard that young Dwight Miller had a brand new backhoe.   When they called, Dwight was pleased at the thought of doing such a useful job.

He brought his machine out to the ranch and prepared to get to work.  He discovered, however, that there was disagreement on this bright idea.  Della thought the notion was silly.  "I've lived all these years with an outhouse and I don't see any reason at all to change!"  

Back in those days, temperatures were very much colder than those currently expected.  Forty and fifty degrees below zero were not unusual at all.  But that old lady didn't mind this.  (No doubt, there were chamber pots available for the worst weather.)

Della's children, themselves no longer young, won out, and Dwight dug the trenches and the septic tank hole and laid the pipes.  We never heard whether Della got used to such luxury or not, but we know that Rudy and Clarabelle agreed that moving into the modern world was a good idea!

 

 

 

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