Ute Bill Thompson

Water

Water Articles

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon
A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

The idea of a water passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean had long captivated the imagination of early explorers.  Soon after the Territory of Colorado was established, the United States government made a standing offer of $3,750 to anyone who could demonstrate such a route.

In 1869 a dreamer named Sam Adams convinced some people in the town of Breckenridge that goods could be sent upriver via the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte and South Platte Rivers to South Park.  Then, with a short portage over Boreas pass, they could continue down the Blue River to the Grand (Colorado) River and then through Gore Canyon the Sea of Cortez.

Volunteers were told they would share in the prize, and they built four boats of green lumber for the voyage.  The flotilla was launched with great celebration, the lead boat bearing a banner proclaiming "Western Colorado to California ? Greetings!"  A little dog was given to the crew to keep up morale.

As the boats went down the Blue River, the waters were a bit rougher than expected. When the men arrived at the Grand (Colorado) River, the crew set up camp. However several of the "sailors" declared they had had enough and began a trek, via dry land back home to Breckenridge.

When the boats reached Gore Canyon, they encountered violent upsurges and dramatic drops.  The wild waters smashed all four of the vessels on dangerous rocks.  Fortunately, all members made it to dry land, even the little dog.  No reward was ever given for the attempt.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project
Colorado-Big Thompson Project

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

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

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

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

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

Early Water Disagreements
Early Water Disagreements

As fast as settlers arrived in the county, conflicts arose over water use.  George T. Bell, an early rancher on the Blue River in the 1890's, had water rights coming out of Deep Creek, Spring Creek, and Soda and Iron Springs.  Daughter Maud Bell had married James Mugrage and when her father died in 1925, she and James stayed on the ranch of about 800 acres, to operate it.  She reported years later that when Noonen, a large rancher also on the Blue, built his ditch, he took much of the Bell water and used it for his own benefit.  Many years later, Maud discovered that although her father was long dead, those early water rights still belonged to the Bells, not the Noonens. 

Another family, that of George Henricks, settled far up the Troublesome Valley, about 1900, in what was truly an inaccessible spot.  What possessed him to pick such a remote area for his ranch?  Because when he and his wife Aurille lived in Nebraska and tried to make a living on their farm, farmers upstream stole their water to the point that they couldn't keep their crops alive.  Aurille actually had to use the same batch of water for two or three purposes!  As water fights escalated, George vowed to find a place where nobody could be above him and his water source. Rancher Will Call took him far up the Troublesome valley to a large meadow, reachable only by foot or horseback.  Life wasn't easy, for George and Aurille had to do everything from scratch, and they lived in a cabin with a dirt floor for many years.  But nobody took his water! 

Even more recently there was a case on Crooked Creek, where a ranching family that owned quite a good spring and used it to water their hay, discovered that a new neighbor was diverting the water from the spring over onto his own land, to water his own hay!  The rancher protested and diverted the water back where it belonged.  The newcomer turned around and stole it again.  This situation went on for many years without good satisfaction.

The Kirtz Ditch development on the Troublesome began about 1890.  In 1911, an Elias T. Copelin homesteaded land, later adjacent to the Alexander and George Murray Baker ranches.  One day Copelin and Murray Baker, one of the brothers, got into an argument over water rights in the Kirtz Ditch, each accusing the other of stealing his water.  Murray, who was a little guy with a fierce temper, picked up a shovel and gave Copelin a mighty whack with it.  Copelin fell to the ground but after a bit picked himself up, climbed on his horse, and headed toward his home.  However, the blow must have damaged his brain because he was found the next day, dead on the ground at his own gate

High on Meadow Creek, in the early 1900's, lumber activity began in the area later known as Sawmill Meadow.  About 1910, the Western Land and Flume Co. put in a little dam near what is now the trailhead to Columbine Lake.  The resulting lake, today filled with water lilies, was used as a holding pond for logs that would be moved by flume to the main mill downstream in Tabernash.  This lumber company sold to Western Box & Lumber Company in 1912.  Business flourished.  There was even a short railroad going into the woods, with the tracks made of logs about 6" to 8" in diameter.  Prospects looked good.  However, from the beginning water rights were an issue. Some people say it was Nathan Hurd who broke the company.  Western Box had lost some of its water to the Strawberry Ditch (going to Granby) in 1914.  More trouble was looming.  Hurd wanted to keep the water from the little reservoir for the ranchers and lettuce farmers below.  The timber folks wanted to use the water during the summer months to keep the flume going.  Nobody was willing to give up anything, so in 1915, the big mill closed.   Still, efforts continued.

Then in 1919, the planing mill at Tabernash burned.  In the early twenties, further contention led to the withholding of more water from the lumber companies who wanted permission to ditch Trail Creek water across into Meadow Creek, replacing water taken higher up for the flume and Strawberry Ditch.  This would have been quite easy because, about seven miles out of Tabernash is a nearly flat saddle that exists between the two creeks.   Nevertheless the Hurds wouldn't hear of it.

Then one Henry Jarvis showed up on the scene.  He was known to all the timber men.  In 1923, Jarvis, using a box of TNT, "blew the dam" of the irrigation reservoir at Western Box.  People suspected that he did it for T.S. Huston, one of the big lumber powers of the area.  The feeling was that "if the lumbermen couldn't have the water, neither could the ranchers and the Granby farmers."  In any case, that basically was the end of Western Box Company. 

Grand Lake
Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

Moving Water from Point A to Point B
Moving Water from Point A to Point B

Most serious ranchers had more than one ditch and most built one or more reservoirs. Hilry Harris, Munroe C. Wythe, Samuel H. Burghard, and John A. Coulter entered the first water claim in the county on September 20, 1874. This came out of Sheep Creek above the head of Gore Canyon.

There usually was some natural irrigation; but the challenge of getting the water from the creek required laborious construction of diversion dams, headgates, and ditches, the earliest ditches being dug by hand and often taking up to four years to complete. Later, ditches were dug using teams and scrapers. The grade was figured out initially by simple gravity flow, letting a trickle of water move down the ditch. Soon ranchers refined the process, using a 16’ long board placed with a 1/8" slope, determined by a carpenter’s level. A.F. and Roy Polhamus surveyed a great many of the water ditches, especially those impressive ones in West Grand County, some of which even had tunnels involved. Most small ditches supplied just one ranch, but if a ditch had to cross another ranch, that rancher usually got a share. And some of these ditches were long!

For instance, Dr. Henry Hoagland, on the Blue River, anticipated getting water close at hand from Spruce Creek. Instead, he discovered an old timer had previous rights that forced him to go back into the mountains and build a 13-mile long ditch. Hoagland had figured on spending about $7000; in the end, the actual cost was $26,000! His crew dug the ditch around side hills and across valleys using flumes and siphons. Then his real troubles began. Terrible leaks and washouts occurred everywhere. Finally he hauled in adobe and put this in the bottom of the ditch, rented sheep, and drove them day after day up and down the ditch to pack it. After a couple of years of using this tamping process, the ditch held. Other ditches were even longer. The Church Ditch at Willow Creek and the Wheatley Ditch on the back Troublesome were both 16 miles long.

The Company Ditch (aka the Williams Fork Ditch), eight feet wide on the bottom, was another long one. Built between 1903 and 1907, it cost $44,000 and had a decree for 150 cubic feet / second. The ditch went uphill and down, requiring many flumes and bridges. One flume was actually 1200 feet long! Subsequent breakdowns, leaks, and slides were so frequent and repairs so extremely costly that old-timers have said the reason the Company Ranch went broke about 1920 was the expense of The Ditch. The Lyman Ditch (or the Curtis), started about 1891, was just as complicated as the Company Ditch. Crossing high above the Williams Fork River, the ditch eventually needed cement piers to carry the pipe (1928). This ditch had so many slides, leaks, and washouts, that it had to be inspected once or twice daily! Siphons were required over draws. Flumes, sometimes ¼ mile long, might be 25-30 feet high, and one flume was actually 177 feet high; but these heights were necessary to maintain the elevation.

Flumes, being of wood, rotted and were guaranteed to leak. Sometimes wind blew a portion of the flume down. Finally the county put in big pipes to help the ditches across the Williams Fork. It might be noted that, when water leaked out of ditches, a side benefit was that ranchers along the way could use the "lost" water. Along with the ditches came reservoirs.

Fred DeBerard had four reservoirs on the Muddy: the Albert, the Binco, Milk Creek, and a low one that flooded the Jones place near Kremmling. All were dirt, of course. The Hermosa Ranch on the Little Muddy had water rights through the Sylvan Ditch and Reservoir Company and they built the Sylvan Reservoir dam and the Hermosa Ditch starting in 1911 and completing it by the spring of 1916. The Stein Ditch, started in 1897, was another large ditch, this one later purchased by the Taussig family. These ditches were all built originally to provide water to meadows and fields for ranching purposes. For years, people hauled in water for baths and household use, but that gradually changed. Leon Almirall, near the Horseshoe Ranger Station on the Williams Fork, decided that he wanted water for his home, so he built a 1700’ pipeline to his house, added an inside bathroom, and was shocked when the line froze the first winter – it was only three feet deep. He called in workers who dug down and insulated the line with manure and straw. It froze again. Finally, Almirall gave up and buried the line six feet deep. Now he had his water!

On Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, E.D. Shew cut a ditch upstream from his house, placing it along the edge of the creek, but directing the water back into the main channel near his house. At that point, he put a little water wheel that pushed the water up the hill to his cabins -- and furnished electricity besides. Eventually he replaced the water wheel with a gas engine. There was a similar water wheel, used for the same purpose, up in Hideaway Park.

Water was used to transport lumber as well. A flume ran down the mountain into Monarch Lake, in the days when the Monarch Company was timbering there. There was a flume along St. Louis Creek, carrying lumber from the camps upstream. Perhaps the most ambitious flume ran from Western Box Sawmill. This area is now under Meadow Creek Reservoir. In 1906, the Deisher Lumber Company paid Nathan Hurd for a right of way through his land and built a flume with a 2% grade down Hurd Creek. Logs were placed in the flume and a horse harnessed to the last log. The horse then pushed the logs down the flume with the help of the water. Three years later, the mill was moved to "Sawmill Meadow" on Meadow Creek.

In 1911 construction on the seven-mile-long Vaver Flume began, with 117 cubic inches of water allotment. This flume ran down Meadow Creek and over to Tabernash, carrying partially processed logs for further manufacture. A flume rider checked along the way, making sure there were no jams, and phone line allowed the rider to report troubles. Hikers can see remnants of both the St. Louis Creek flume and that one coming down Meadow Creek today.

Onahu Creek
Onahu Creek

Onahu Creek was called Fish Creek and is a tributary of the North Fork of the Colorado River. The name refers to one of the Indian race horses who came up to a campfire to warm himself, and the name means “warms himself“.  The horse ultimately died on Fish Creek and gave his name to the waterway.

Water
Water

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River — the river that brings water to five other arid Western states. Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.

On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers — all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem. 60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.

Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.

Water from the Mountains - The Grand Ditch
Water from the Mountains - The Grand Ditch

 Though few, high altitude water ditches have had a major impact on Grand County's history and economy, there were many early valley ditches transporting this precious commodity from water-right sources to the owner's ranch. However, the threat of transporting great volumes of water from our county to Boulder County via high altitude ditches appeared back in 1889.  Certain interests east of the Divide talked the Legislature into appropriating $25,000, for surveying and developing a 20-mile-long canal over South Boulder Pass to South Boulder Creek.  Amazingly, neither Grand County residents nor very many others opposed this notion.  Luckily the state engineer found the terrain so difficult that not even $2000 was ever spent on the project.


The next effort occurred also in 1889.  This privately financed plan was to develop a two-branched canal system that would move 700 second feet of water to a half-mile tunnel just beneath Berthoud Pass at over 11,000 feet, thence down to Clear Creek and on to the Golden area.  Initial surveys were begun that fall and roads laid out the following year.  The effort bogged down but was resurrected in 1900 under the Agricultural Ditch Co., supplemented in 1902 with the Berthoud Canal Co.  The canal was partially completed by the Frank Church family ranching interests of Jefferson County by 1906.  The ditch, which can be walked today, runs from Second Creek to Berthoud Pass, though it no longer carries much water.  However, the Church Ditch water rights coming from Clear Creek still exist and today are owned by Northglenn.

Proposed in 1890 by the Water Supply and Storage Company of Fort Collins, a greater canal was to be built 1000 feet above the Kawuneeche Valley, that would tap the high tributaries of the North Fork of the Grand River, sending the water over Poudre Pass to a reservoir and then into the Cache La Poudre River and on to agricultural areas east of the Front Range.  The water company, later known as the Grand River Ditch Company, appropriated 525 second feet at the time of the initial diversion in 1892.  (When the Grand River was renamed the Colorado River in 1921, the company was changed to the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.)  The ditch was dug by hand, primarily by Japanese and Mexican laborers.  By 1900, water was flowing eastward.  

By 1906, this major canal, known as the Grand Ditch, and draining water from the Never Summer Range, had a capacity of nearly 358 second feet with 12 headgates within 8 miles, running from Baker Creek to the pass at 10,179 feet, plus a smaller canal carrying 183 second feet within 11 miles, coming from Specimen Mountain.  In 1936, using machinery, the ditch was lengthened to 14 miles.  The Grand Ditch is about 20 feet wide and 6 feet deep, though the water is rarely more than 3 feet deep, and this water irrigates some 40,000 acres in Weld and Larimer counties.

The National Park Service has argued against the allocation of all this water to the canal as it is needed to support plant life and animal habitat.  Becuase river water flow was cut in half, the immediate effect was a reduction in the fish population in the Colorado River.  More recently, a major washout in the ditch caused devastating damage to the slopes below the ditch and to the Colorado River itself.  Hikers climbing up from the valley use the Grand Ditch as a route to the high peaks and lake.  But as viewed from below, the Grand Ditch is often considered an ugly scar on the landscape.

Williams Fork Reservoir
Williams Fork Reservoir

Article contributed by Liz Church

 

Williams Fork Reservoir plays an important role in water conservation, while being an asset in revealing archaeological data of earlier existent peoples in the region. The reservoir is located about 12 miles southeast of Kremmling at an elevation of 7874 ft. in Grand County, Colorado, near the center of Middle Park. Williams Fork is a tributary of the Colorado River, extending from Clear Creek to Vasquez Creek, with the Vasquez Tunnel running through and its completion in 1959.

 

Williams Fork is a water source to the Denver Metro Area, with diverted water from high elevation tributaries of the Williams Fork River to the Gumlick Tunnel for departure to the Moffat Tunnel system. Standing 217 feet above the Williams Fork River streambed, the dam backs up a reservoir of 97,000 acre feet of water.

 

Williams Fork is also a Paleo-Indian site.  Archaeologists believe that 12,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, people migrated from Asia into North America. Most Paleo-Indian sites are identified by an existence of projectile points. The Williams Fork Reservoir was dominated by James Allen projectile points, a categorized set of points, or better known as a categorized set of stone tools. The reservoir allows archaeologists to access the extent in which the James Allen points and perhaps earlier existent groups were bestowing the mountains during the Holocene period, the name given to the last 10,000 years of the Earth's history.

 

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillips-Williams_Fork_Reservoir _Site

 

Articles to Browse

Mountain Men / Trappers

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s. Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy. Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County, where a pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him.

His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville. 26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians. Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection. Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation. So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg. As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats. In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there. On the other hand …fishing was great! His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning. Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park. Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado. Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders. He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls. In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado. As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.

Topic: Indians

Tabernash

The unrest and hard feelings between the Indians and settlers in Middle Park gave rise to an inevitable conflict the last week of August, 1878. About forty Utes, led by Piah and Washington, started to set up camp in William Cozens’ meadow, near Fraser, taking fence poles to make fires. Cozens drove them off, telling them to replace the poles and leave. The Utes moved down valley about five miles to a spring not far from Junction Ranch (named for the junction of the Rollins Pass and Berthoud Pass wagon roads).

There, Johnson Turner, who leased that land, became increasingly uneasy as the Indians were drinking heavily and expressing anger that Ouray given away their land in treaties with the white man. They wanted Turner to pay them for the hay he was cutting. They tore down his fences for firewood, turned their 100 horses into his meadow, and set up camp. They also laid out a race track on drier ground about a mile way.

Turner complained to the sheriff, Eugene Marker, who rounded up a posse of men, intending to remove the Indians or at least convince them to move on. Accompanying him, on September 1, were Frank Addison, a transient prospector, John Stokes, T.D. Livingston, and Frank Byers.  The posse found only women and children at the camp, since the Ute men were at the race course. Marker, the sheriff, ordered the encampment searched for firearms and when the Ute men returned, an angry confrontation ensued. 

Tabernash and Frank Addison exchanged threats, and Tabernash jumped from his horse and snatched one of the guns piled on the ground. Frank Addison immediately shot him. Tabernash tried to pull his rifle from its scabbard, but that it became entangled, and Addison then fired twice more. Tabernash slumped over the neck of his pony, which ran away through the willows. Apparently Addison recognized Tabernash as the Indian responsible for the killing several of his companions while trapping furs on Grizzly Fork in North Park six years earlier. 

After this bloodshed, the posse persuaded the rest of the Utes to leave, after they buried Tabernash’s body in a shallow grave. No one was ever sure where Tabernash was buried. There was a rumor that the slain Tabernash was buried in a draw not far from Junction Ranch, but when the Grand County Historical Association excavated the site, nothing was found.

A day later, September 3, on a Ranch near Kremmling, Abraham Elliott was shot while cutting wood, and his horses stolen.  In response, the posse moved north in the direction of the White River Reservation. 60 Utes met the posse, and explained that the culprits were Piah and Washington, neither of whom was a part of the White River band.  Ultimately, the Utes signed a council report, returned horses stolen from the Elliott ranch, while the  ranchers returned guns confiscated from the Utes at Junction Ranch.  The matter was considered legally settled, but outrage and fear continued among the settlers and the Utes of the area.

In 1902, E.A. Meredith, chief engineer for the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, named the town that had grown up with the building of the railroad, after the slain Ute, Tabernash.

Topic: Railroads

The Train Comes to Fraser

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas
 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Topic: Towns

Hot Sulphur Springs

Hot Sulphur Springs was founded as the first town in Grand County around 1870.  By 1903 it gained incorporation. The hot springs in the area were considered a healing and sacred place by the Ute Indians long before the white man discovered them.

The town site was once owned by William N. Byers, founder of the Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. Planning to build a town to take advantage of the springs, he first had to construct an enclosure around the main pool to keep the Indian ponies out and the steam in. The white settlers and travellers were drawn to the  springs for their therapeutic value.

During the Christmas season of 1911, Hot Sulphur Springs hosted the first Winter Carnival west of the Mississippi.

Except for a brief period in the early 1880’s, the town has been the county seat.  The Grand County Historical Museum there draws many visitors to its unique displays.

 

Topic: Dude Ranches

Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

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.

Christmas at the Crawfords

Jimmy and Maggie Crawford settled in Hot Sulphur Springs in June of 1874.  They left their farm in Missouri with their three children, John not yet two, Logan 4 and Lulie 7 years old to begin a new life in Colorado. The one room cabin was built of round logs and had a sod roof.  In several places outside light could be seen between the logs. The floor was packed earth covered with elk skins which had a tendency to smell while drying out after a rain or melting snow.  The sod roof was far from water proof.  When the children came down with scarlet fever Jimmy promised to cover the roof with wood shingles and had gone to Billy Cozens' sawmill to make them.  Mr. Cozens was very helpful and even gave Jimmy a rusty iron stove to take back home.  Rusty or not, to Maggie it was like new.  She was most appreciative.  The shingles were carefully stacked by the cabin but never made it to the roof.

Jimmy carefully explored the area for suitable pasture land for his small cattle herd.  His explorations took him further and further to the west of Hot Sulphur Springs and as fall approached he became desperate to locate suitable grazing pasture before the snows.  Although Jimmy would return home every few weeks, the time in between his visits became longer and longer as he moved his cows to the west.  Maggie was faced with many hardships in his absence.  Ute Indians would quietly appear, seemingly from nowhere, and ask for food or as in one instance, ask to trade a pony for the little boy John which she of course adamantly refused.  Maggie was able to keep friendly relations with the Utes but never comfortable when they appeared.  The conversations were limited to jesters, hand language and a variety of facial expressions.

But this is a Christmas Story. To begin with, mountain men, prospectors and just plain loafers from Georgetown would stop by the Crawford's for a meal when they were in the area.  Maggie would never refuse them.  A few weeks before Christmas four prospectors enjoyed a well prepared venison stew with Maggie and the three children.  Lulie, the seven year old told the visitors how she was going to hang a stocking at the foot of the bed for Santa Claus to fill with toys and candy.  Her two brothers shook their heads in agreement.  Maggie said, "Lulie, I really don't think Santa Claus could find us way out here in Colorado!"  She knew there was nothing she had to fill the stockings except maybe some sugar candy which would likely be a disappointment for each of them.  Their Christmases in Missouri were memorable with presents, candies and fruit.   One of the four prospectors listened intently to Lulie as she described the Crawford's last Christmas in Missouri.  He had introduced himself as Charley Royer.  Charley was a 22 year old, recently from Kentucky now working in the silver mines near Georgetown. After a very satisfying lunch the men left and a heavy snow began to fall.

By Christmas Eve the snow was deep and drifts were high. The temperature dropped  below zero.  Although Jimmy had promised to be back for Christmas, Maggie thought the snow too deep for him to travel.  He had located what he called the perfect pasture far to the west and had made a land claim close to a bubbling sulphur spring.  He told Maggie it reminded him of the sounds steamboats made on the Missouri River and named his land claim, "Steamboat Springs."   Alone with the children, Maggie read the bible story of Christmas.  Before dropping off to sleep, Lulie said, "I know Santa Claus will find us, I just know he will!"  Maggie sadly shook her head.  Hours later, close to midnight, there was a gentle knock on the door.  Maggie cautiously opened the door hoping it would not invite trouble.  To her surprise it was the young Charley Royer.  He held out a gunny sack and said, "Mam, I've brought some oranges, hope they haven't froze, some candy and a few toys for the children.  Please tell them Santa Claus did know where they lived.  I remember how important Christmas was for me and I wish you and your family a Happy Christmas."  He turned and walked back into the darkness.  Charley Royer had come 60 miles from Georgetown in the bitter cold and heavy snow to make three little children happy on Christmas morning with oranges no less, in the middle of winter, toys and candy, a Christmas they would never forget. Jimmy made it home on Christmas day to add to the joy.  The following year and many years after the Crawfords had Christmas in a comfortable ranch house in a place called "Steamboat Springs."  As for what the future held for Charley Royer, well that's a story for another time.

Topic:

Mountain Men and Trappers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s.  Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy.

Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County to trade with the Utes.  A pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him and his trading post was located at the site of modern Winter Park.  His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville.

26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians.  Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection.  Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation.  So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg.  As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats.  In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there.  On the other hand …fishing was great!  His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning.

Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park.  Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado.  Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders.  He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls.  In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado.  As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.      

Sources:
Carl Ubbulode, Maxine Benson & Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Pruett Press, 1972
Agnes Spring Wright, Colorado Charlie, Wild Bill's Partner, Pruett Press, 1968
Hazel Gresham, North Park, Self Published, 1975
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies, Pruett Publishing Co., 1969
Abbott Fay, To Think That This Happened In Grand County, Grand County Historical Association, 1999

 

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

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