Edited by Gary Minke of the Park County Local History Archives
A collection of oral histories was assembled with the cooperation of key senior Park County residents through the auspices of The Park County Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (PCHPAC), and the Park County Local History Archives. Two grants from the Forest Service and matching funds from PCHPAC and the Local Archives helped to cover the materials cost, the interviewers’ fees and a training workshop. Kathie Moore, former PCHPAC director, coordinated the project. The interviewers were dedicated volunteers whose labor has been well appreciated. The team handling the tapes and microphone included Cara Doyle, Linda Bjorklund, April Bernard, and Bob Hult.
Inspired by the National historic contribution of the Storycorps Project and in particular the publication of selected excerpts in the book “Listening Is An Act Of Love” edited by Dave Isay (The Penguin Press, New York, 2007) the Park County Local Archive Committee decided to embark on the present project. As of the publication date of “VOICES” …only 19 of the 64 oral histories conducted have been completely transcribed. It was agreed that publishing key excerpts from a selected number of these oral histories would give history enthusiasts a flavor of the rich information available on the tapes and wet a few appetites to visit the Local Archives and learn more. It was even hoped that this small effort would stimulate a volunteer or two to step forward to help us complete the transcription project.
A lot of the gaps in Park County’s recorded history can be filled in by listening to the knowledgeable people who either lived here or who remember stories from parents, relatives or friends that grew up here. The following stories were selected from the oral histories collected so far. A brief bit of background information is provided so that the excerpt story can be better understood.
Elkhorn Ranches, Eastern South Park
Interview (2002) with James Bain Morrow Gardner, Park County Commissioner and third generation rancher/homesteader in Eastern South Park’s Elkhorn Ranches. James was asked by interviewer Lynda Bjorklund: “How did your dad meet your mom?” This is how James replied. “My mom bought a homestead.” (640 acres in the midst of the Gardner family homestead holdings in 1938) “My mom is not from an agrarian family. She is actually kind of a blueblood from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her maiden name was Morrow. My full name is James Bain Morrow Gardner. If you go back into the Halifax registry you’ll find three or four generations of James Bain Morrow’s. They were Scottish. My granddad from that side of the family came to America as a mining engineer. He was born in 1886. After coming to America he worked with the Phelps-Dodge Corporation and the Consolidated Coal Company as a mining engineer. My mom was born in Los Angeles and the family moved shortly after that to Dawson, New Mexico, which is a ghost town now, but was a coal-mining town then. Mom went to school in Raton, New Mexico and she went to college initially in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Then she came to Denver University and got a Master’s in teaching. She was going to become a teacher. When she was 21 years old her grandfather from her mother’s side gave her $1200 inheritance when he died. She had the presence of mind to know that if she squandered it somewhere it would be gone. She was going to DU at the time finishing her Master’s and she was looking through the paper and saw an ad for a homestead in Park County, Colorado. She had gotten a 1932 Pontiac and drove up Highway 285. This was right in a transitional time between when the railroad (Colorado & Southern narrow gauge) was going out and part of 285 was still a dirt road. Anyway she came up here and it was a 640-acre homestead, and it was $1200 exactly. I still have the handwritten piece of yellow paper—the deed when she got it. I forgot the date but it was sometime in the spring of 1938. She bought the homestead from a guy named Louis Schmitt and moved in there. It was one of the few homesteads that my granddad (Roscoe Byron Gardner) hadn’t managed to acquire. And it was right smack in the middle of his ranch holdings. Think of her as a fresh young girl coming into the area. And these Gardner boys are living down the road. Well my dad started coming over and visiting. They were probably as dissimilar in background as they could possibly be. My dad’s family were very intelligent but they didn’t have breeding back in the day when breeding meant everything. Even though my dad was extremely self-educated and well spoken he only finished the eighth grade…whereas Mary had a Master’s Degree in English. Anyway she pretty much scrapped her teaching career before it got started to live as a hermit on this place. Then World War II intervened and so she went off—like Rosie the Riveter—only she went off in a managerial capacity to work for a consolidated aircraft outfit during the war. My dad was too old for WWII so he stayed on the ranch. Mary left her horse for the Gardner boys to take care of. She came back in 1946 and dad was still around and had taken care of her horse. She still had the homestead. It was just kind of a natural thing—here’s my dad and there she is and so they got married (in 1948) and here I am.”
Jefferson, Eastern South Park
Moderator Cara Doyle interviewed Merrill Wright on 9/10/02 in a home he was renting in rural Jefferson, Colorado. Merrill, a long-time native of Park County, was 79 then and reflecting on his early years of living along Jefferson Creek and the Tarryall and about how much change he had witnessed. Cara asked Merrill if he remembered any trips to Breckenridge during the 1930s. Merrill recalled his first train trip over Boreas Pass in 1938 when he was 15. “I remember I took a (train) ride from Como to Breckenridge, all of us kids…in May and they (Colorado & Southern Railroad) started taking it (the rails and hardware) out in June. It was a big splurge for us you know! I don’t think I’d ever been in Breckenridge before. I remember that ole train going up there. It was May and the snowdrifts were still there—higher than the boxcars and when you made a couple of (tight) curves you could dang near shake hands with the engineer! We never did eat (anything on the train) that time. We jest went there and then they hauled us back over. We didn’t get off (in Breckenridge).” Cara Doyle: “Do you remember what was over there at that time?” Merrill: “Naw. We never paid much attention. You know, there was nuthin over there at that time. I remember we could have bought the whole town of Breckenridge for taxes. We had a mine up there on Mt. Guyot. We used to have to go over there to file a claim in Summit County. (Possibly it was the Horn Mine?) You’d go over there and you could’ve bought any building there for taxes. 1948, that was…and look at it now! Cara: “When you were here with your family in the 1930s did you guys have enough food?” Merrill: “Well, it was pretty skimpy sometimes. My dad, I remember, had an insurance check from his brother who got killed in WWI, for $53 and some cents. We lived on that a lot of times. I remember people here were good. I never went hungry, but I used to go to the store and eye the oranges and apples and all that. We never had any but only on Christmas, you know. We’d have an orange and a apple and a popcorn ball and a little ribbon candy and old fashioned chocolates and one toy…and that toy had to last us for a year! I remember people over here…people got sick. There were no doctors. Everybody had an enema hose and a hot water bottle! And everybody died of the same thing. It was the flu or something…they didn’t know. I remember they took me to the dentist, and they didn’t have no novacaine (when they) pulled your teeth. We’d never hardly go to the dentist so we’d probably get a fillin’ and we’d come home and (when Mom*) made taffy it would pull every fillin’ right out! It was the same thing for Aunt Minnie and Corky (Miller). We’d never get to see a doctor or a dentist. I remember we’d just go when (our teeth) were ulcerated clear down and your tooth was lower than the gum. They’d take big balls of cotton and that hot stuff (I can’t remember what its called) to stick down there and pack it. I tell ya, that was somethin’ else! My Uncle Dan told a story…they lived down (CR77?) toward where my dad** did but below…he (Uncle Dan) had a tooth that was real bad and it got to aching…so his dad took a spike and a hammer (now, this is true) and tried to knock that tooth out. The spike went in between (the teeth) and they couldn’t get the spike out. So they hooked up the horse and buggy and went to Fairplay to a vet to get the spike out.
*Olivia (Caylor) Wright, originally from Lake George.
**Arthur Roy Wright of Florissant, Colorado.
Bailey, Northeastern Park County
Interview with Harold Warren by Bob Hult on 5/3/02. Harold was one of the true historians of the area and he had many interests ranging from bee keeping and hog raising to ham radio operation and archaeology. At the time of this interview Harold was 91 years old and still had a pretty clear mind but was prone to jumping to different topics as they occurred to him. This next story evolved from a question asked by Bob Hult regarding the transfer of public land to private use. Harold: “Down here where Lost Creek comes out from under the mountain for the last time and before it flows into Cheesman Lake it is called Goose Creek. They (engineers from Denver Water) sank a shaft down into where the mountain had slipped down and covered the creek and it continued to flow underground instead of backing up into a reservoir. In fact we almost lost a ranger down there one time. (Harold had once worked as a ranger for the Forest Service). He (the ranger) went down following the rocks down and it was so slippery when he turn around he pertnear didn’t get out. But he did find an opening and came out. They (Denver Water engineers) thought they could have a cheap dam there and a reservoir in upper Lost Park. And so they built a shaft house down on the steam bed there and grouted around the rocks with concrete and sealed it up. They put in a brass valve and the whole bit there. They shut off the valve but never stopped a drop of water. They spent over one hundred thousand dollars doing it. During the 1890s the Denver Water Board acquired the reservoir (land for Antero Reseroir) down by the SaltWorks. But anyway they built a dam there and the Denver Water Board bought it and the people threw in the location for this other reservoir down here in Lost Creek. I was down talking to some of the State people one time and I had a map of the one (reservoir site) that was proposed at the shaft house here and so I let them make a copy of it. It was the only one in existence. But (even though) they never stopped a drop of water (still) when they proposed that reservoir there they took 320 acres from the public domain. There never was a reservoir there. (And yet) the water board still has that land as private property.” (Harold probably heard these stories from the older rangers because the events occurred 15 to 20 years before his birth.)
Harold actually worked on another of Denver Water’s big projects that brought Blue River water from Dillon through the Continental Divide to the North Fork of the South Platte River below Grant. This was the Harold D. Roberts (23.3-mile) Tunnel that was completed in 1962. The tunnel itself cost slightly more than $2 million per mile. Bob Hult: “What did you do at the Roberts Tunnel?” Harold: “It was unionized. They had a carpenter there that was hard to get along with. And they were cutting lumber all the time depending on what kind of rock they were going through in the tunnel. It was his job to cut it up there and so I helped him. I would take it off the conveyor belt, stack it up, and help load the cars that were taking it into the tunnel. All that sort of thing. It was fir and some of it would hold up much better than the native pine here. A lot of it was green and heavy. But the two of us, we just got along like brothers and buddies up there. And we went into the tunnel a few times if they had a little timbering to do up around the heading or something like that…wherever there was bad rock. If the rock was good they could just go right on through. And then there were places where it was bad. They would even put in little stations there, I mean a sidetrack, to let the cars going in and out pass you. And it was quite something to go riding in there. They were using diesel engines and it got to where that smoke was terrific in there. They had a blower fan at the mouth of the tunnel (to try to clear the air)…they even had sheds for the donkeys (that were used) to pull the (dirt and rock) cars out. They started from this end (Grant side) then they decided they would work from the Dillon end too. They (Denver Water’s contracted engineers) had it all surveyed from up on top so they thought they might as well start another heading so they sank a shaft over at Montezuma. And they worked both directions from there and then from Dillon and then from our side. And you know they never missed that much of hitting each other. But of course when they holed through on all of those they laid practically everybody off until they could clean all of that up and get it ready for concreting. It’s all lined with concrete. They had their own little pond and rock crushers and everything over there on the other side of Jefferson—going up towards Jefferson Lake. They had a batch plant on the south side of the road up there and a trestle across to the workings and the headings, the tunnel and everything. And there again I was working with the carpenter on most of that stuff. All outside work!”
Hartsel, south central Park County
On June 4, 2002, Linda Bjorklund conducted an interview with Duley Canterbury who had spent many years as a cowboy and ranch hand in the area. Duley passed away during the spring of 2008. Here are a few excerpts from that interview. Duley: “In all of your interviews, I don’t know if you had been told, but pretty near all of the houses (in the area around Hartsel) were two-story houses. I wonder if you noticed that.” Linda: “Why did they go to two stories”. Duley: “The reason for that was everybody could see. You could see from one house to the other house”. (From the foot of Wilkerson Pass and for many miles of the South Platte River valley around Hartsel the terrain is high prairie with broad vistas.) Duley: “But anyway they (Hartsel ranch folk) always had a light burning in an upstairs window. You could see (from) ranch headquarters to the Buckley. (From) the Buckley to the Platte House and then here by the Donnaires there’s an old two-story white house that’s there. And (at) the Spinney (Ranch). If nobody has a light going the neighbors could go and see what was wrong.
Linda: “Were you there when they moved the house (from the Buckley Ranch)?” Duley: “No. My uncle moved a two-story frame house on the West place when I was a kid. It was moved with a team of horses. Jack it up and put logs under it. It probably never took over four horses to move that one. But some of the bigger buildings took more teams. Linda: “So how did they jack it up?” Duley: “I think my son (Marty?) has both of them now, but I use to have old house jacks. It took a lot of people. You jacked it (the building) up high enough to get logs under it. Then put rollers under the logs. You know they had similar jacks that they used on the railroad. They fastened the logs together so they wouldn’t slide. The one I had was hard-wood and there was a place you could stick a wooden handle in it.”
Fairplay, Colorado (Park County’s big town!)
Marie Chisholm came to Fairplay in 1944 at age 13 and has lived in the area for 64 years. She is a real town historian. Excerpts from her long interview with Cara Doyle on November 29, 2003 are provided here. Cara asked Marie if she remembered any stories when she was waiting tables at the Hand Hotel during 1945-46. One of the stories she remembered probably made a big impression on a teenager who grew up in the small towns of New Mexico and Colorado. Marie: “One thing I remember about working at the Hand Hotel was we had a woman that lived out south of town here. Her name was Lehman—I believe is the way it was spelled. My mother had told me (that the Lehman woman) was doing abortions here in Fairplay. I was telling my mother about this woman who would come in (to the Hand Hotel) with these young teens…well they weren’t teenagers…they were older girls but they were not adult. She (Ms Lehman) would come with them on the Trailways Bus and they would rent a room in the Fairplay Hotel. And they would go up to the room and we wouldn’t see anything of them again until the next day and they would probably have a meal or two. And they would get back on the bus and leave. I knew this lady was coming from Denver. And my mother said she (Ms Lehman) was doing abortions. So one morning Junior Hand came down…he had gone up to clean the rooms. He came down and he was ranting and raving—he was absolutely furious. He said “we will never rent a room to that woman again!” She had obviously done an abortion. There was blood over everything in the room. She never came back. I never saw her again. I don’t know whether he…the next time she came he ran her off…I don’t know. But then later in researching the Flume (Park County Newspaper) I found where this woman was convicted of tax evasion. Six or eight years later after that the IRS convicted her of tax evasion claiming she had earned about $24,000 a year doing abortions. And it was legal. An abortionist sentenced for tax evasion! …She was a surgical nurse in Denver. They (IRS) claimed that she was making this money and not paying taxes on it. I guess it kind of ended her career for the time being. I don’t know (for) how long she was sentenced. So it was proved later then that she was doing abortions in Fairplay. I thought that was interesting for me because I was there during that time…And I think is was in 1954 that she was convicted.”
The next story came from the time that Marie was employed at Social Services in Fairplay between 1949 and 1954. Cara asked “What did you do there”. Marie “I was a clerk typist. Occasionally we did not have a director and so I filled in there. It’s a county position, the same as Social Services now. Except we called it the “Welfare Department”. I could never justify having a full-time clerk typist because I didn’t have much to do. The justification was that when the Director was out of the office somebody had to be there to answer the phone. I did a lot of extra things while I was there. Colonel Frank Mayer, who was very famous in Fairplay…known as the last of the buffalo hunters. He was living…at first he was living up at what they called the Brisco Ranch that is 3 miles out of town. (The Brisco Ranch was along Highway 9 across from the Snowstorm Dredge.) But later when he (Frank Mayer) got too old to walk the three miles to town and back I think he was close to 96 years old. He moved into Fairplay and lived in the little house that’s now included in South Park City (Museum). It was not South Park City at that time, of course. The little house was there. And he would come over to the…he had macular degeneration and he was nearly blind. So he would come over to the Welfare office where I worked, bringing me the letters…any mail that he got…and I would read them to him. His hearing was very good! He could not see! By that time he was able to walk to the Post Office here. But he couldn’t read and he couldn’t write for lack of vision. And so I would type as he would dictate his responses.” Cara asked Marie what kind of man she remembered Colonel Mayer to be? Marie “He was a soldier…very precise! One thing I remember about him was when he stood up he stood very very straight. He was just like a board standing up because he was a tall man…somewhere around 6 feet. To me he was tall. He had a special friend, Lucy Roth, who wrote to him almost every week. He would dictate a response to her every week. He would always start out, “My dearest Lucy.” (He lived to be nearly 103 years old.) And he’s buried in the Fairplay cemetery. He was the one that dedicated the burro monument on Front Street when it was erected in the 1930s whenever that was. …But nobody believed some of the stories he would tell. He would come to town and talk to the various people and nobody believed a lot of the stories. He was editor of an outdoor magazine. In 1906 when the San Francisco earthquake hit…He brought me (a copy of the magazine from that time) and showed it to me and it had his name on it as Editor. And it had pictures of the fires and the tumbled-down buildings and things. And it said, “This is why our issue is late!” So he (Frank Mayer) did have proof that he did a lot of things.”
Mosquito Gulch between Fairplay and Alma
Interview with James Lamping at Grant, Colorado August 9, 2004. Interviewer Bob Hult had established that James had been born in Grant in 1920 and at age 17 had gone to look for work. After being rejected for work on the road between Webster and Kenosha Pass because he was not brawny enough to quickly chop down trees for the road clearing work, James got word that the American Mill in Mosquito Gulch was hiring. James started work there at $2.00 per day as a sample booker who selects ore samples for assay and writes the results in a batch book. James worked at the American Mill from 1937 until 1943 during which time he had advanced from sample booker to mill operator to shift boss. However with WWII going on gold mining was temporarily suspended and conditions at the mill got rather depressing. James: “Like I said, I lived in the boarding house (near the American Mill). There was a room in the basement where we slept. I was disgusted with life. Why don’t I get rid of myself? So, I don’t remember why I was disgusted. So I got one of these boxes of Anacin. Took the whole damn box. I don’t know why I took Anacin to kill myself with, but I did. That was the only thing you could buy that was real strong, except booze, and I wasn’t a boozer. Well, that’s the best night’s sleep I’ve had in my life.” James then went into the Army at Fort Logan. After his tour in the army, James went to college, became a successful engineer, and raised a nice family. He eventually retired to his original birthplace—Grant.
The following excerpts were taken from an interview on September 26, 2002 by Cara Doyle with Carol Davis in her home in Alma. Carol came to Colorado as an elementary school teacher from Wisconsin and began teaching in Fairplay in 1965. Cara asked Carol to describe her wedding to Don Davis at the historic Sheldon Jackson Church in Fairplay during the winter of 1968. It just so happened that the winter of 1967-68 produced lots of snow in Park County and elsewhere. Carol, “The reception was (to be held) at the Fairplay Hotel (then managed by Don Davis’s mother). It was during a snowstorm so nobody came. The lady who was going to lend us the punch bowl was snowbound in Colorado Springs so I bought a couple of salad bowls at what was then the Country Store (located in the stone-fronted building across from the library on Main Street but now out of business). And so we put punch in those. The gal who was to cut the cake was stuck someplace, I don’t remember where. So I got one of my students who had said: “Please can’t we come to your wedding?” The whole family came to the wedding and so the oldest girl was our cake cutter. We didn’t really have a whole lot planned because we were going back to Wisconsin and having a reception there (as well). So in this one we had to clean up after ourselves before we could leave. On the way to Wisconsin there was still a major snowstorm going on. We spent a lot of time pulling people out of ditches with our Bronco. We got as far as Cozad, Nebraska and there was no traffic (moving)! The plows had shut down and the interstate was closed. So we (Don and I) spent our honeymoon in Cozad with the Wilcox family. They were the people who came to the police station and said, “We’ll take two (of the stranded ones)” (There are a lot of kind and neighborly people in rural Nebraska!) And they took us home with them. They were a delightful young couple with a bunch of kids. Every time I go past Cozad, I think I’ve got to go and see if the Wilcox’s are still there.”
After her teaching career ended, Carol was hired by the South Park City Museum in Fairplay where she has worked for the past 35 years. South Park history, particularly the 1880s mining history, has become part of her life. Cara asked Carol how well history has been taken care of at South Park City Museum? The houses and rooms in the museum are so authentically appointed that they could represent a time-lapse photo of how people lived during the 1880s. “And that is what we are trying to portray there. There are lots of places where we do have plexiglass—but what’s behind that is either valuable or vulnerable. A lot of stuff is out where people can touch. We would never put the Tiffany vase out so that people could handle it and pick it up and (remark) “Oh my gosh! This is signed by Tiffany!” Most people don’t even know that there’s a Tiffany vase there. The other thing, like the nude painting, is a (work) by Charles Craig. He was quite an important artist in Colorado history. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s is when he painted. His most important works are some of his Plains Indians and Buffalo kinds of things. He’s got huge murals in the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs. Beautiful stuff! And then here’s our little nude. (The painting of a bare dancehall girl adorns one wall in the saloon at Rache’s Place in South Park City.) And it’s the only one we know of that he did. If there are others out there they are in private collections, and they’re kept very secret. Nobody knows—they did a retrospective a few years ago (on Charles Craig), and they had her (our painting hanging in Rache’s Place) all draped up in fancy velvet. They borrowed her for that show. Another interesting thing I find is that there are so many things in here (50,000 or so artifacts of the 1880’s) that every year there’s always a surprise. For instance, some guy asked one of the (employees) about the paintings—the portraits—that are kept upstairs in the brewery. There are some men and some women, oil paintings and they’re huge with beautiful ornate picture frames around them. And he was curious as to who painted them. He wasn’t too keen on wiggling things around (inside the frames). They (the portraits) were not signed on the front and we thought maybe (there would be) some information on the back. So we went up one day and were looking at them but the paintings the guy referred to are not signed and there was no information on the back other than the name of the gallery where they had once been cleaned. (We mailed that bit of information to the fellow.) But as we were walking out of that place, I noticed that there was a signature of the bottom of another portrait. And I went up and looked at it and it was Charles Craig! We have two Charles Craig paintings at the museum and I wasn’t even aware of the second one. So it’s kind of interesting that you learn as you grow. And (it’s) the same thing with our (historical) exhibits. I hated history when I was in school. It was my least favorite subject. It was not until I got this job that I finally gained an appreciation for it.” Carol Davis has become one of the more notable historians of Park County.
Fairplay, CO interview with Gerald N. Davis on 9/18/02 conducted by April Bernard. Gerry started working with the USDA Forest Service in 1958. The Forest Service that Gerry sometimes refers to as “Smokey Bear” manages most of the mountainous areas of Park County. As the Forest Service management system evolved it had to successively take control of timber, mining, grazing and finally recreational activities. Some of the excerpts from this interview provide an insight into the difficulties faced by Gerry and other Forest Service employees in the enforcement of the policies that were developed. April: “When do you think that initial clash took place, struggle for cutting the number of cattle (grazing on forest land)? Gerry: “It started long before the Forest Service. It really started when the General Land Office agents during the 1880s went after some of these guys (ranchers) for fencing the public domain. You’d have some old boy backed up to a mountain somewhere and he’d strategically arrange his fences so he had a whole chunk of country fenced. It was totally illegal. The special agents, they called them back then, did some (work) on grazing abuses—more timber than grazing actually but they did some grazing (policy) work about the turn of the century. The first rangers were Interior Department people and they had some of the real tough stuff on grazing. They then transitioned over to the Forest Service that took over where they left off. The mining, there was a lot of difficulty with that. We had no control until the 1970s probably when we finally got surface management regulations on mining to where we were able to require people to have operating permits to do surface disturbance type stuff on the mining claims. We had people that were used to literally taking the cat out there and doing their assessment work and we (Forest Service) hadn’t much to say because the Federal Mining Regulation 272-90 had us beat there. The (Regulations) required assessment work and we didn’t have any regulations on controlling the way it was done. They (the miners) could just take a cat and doze a ditch down the hill and there wasn’t much we could do. Then the surface management regs came in and that cat might be doing its thing on a contour rather than right straight down a hill somewhere.”
The big increase in recreational use started in the late 1960s and early 1970s. New campgrounds had to be equipped with better and larger facilities. Later environmentalists were concerned about tree cutting and controlled burning. To take a balanced approach to forest management you might have to step on a few toes on both sides of the fence. It is tough to balance forest management and fire suppression within the “so called” guidelines of the “Al Gore type of Global Warming Conservationism”. If you do prescribed burns you deliberately release all that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere along with killing precious trees and disturbing some wildlife habitat. If you don’t thin the forest so that fires can be managed you are setting the table for major fires with an even larger environmental price and impact.
April asked about the Forest Service change of attitude on preserving history. Gerry: “Yeah, When I think of some of the stuff we’ve done. Torn down old cabins and cow shacks because they’d become a nuisance. Historic things, in fact, not all that many years ago that we’d be shot for now. Probably should have been then. Smokey’s always been a neat freak. He likes everything all nice and cleaned up out there. If there’s some old cabin that’s out there littering up the place that isn’t being used he’d go burn the son-of-gun down. We should have recorded them and taken pictures of them. Smokey’s always been that way about things like sawmills. The guy has to clean up his sawmill before he can close out his timber permit and leave nothing. But if somebody did leave something out there we’d go out there with a cat and bury the dog-gone sawmill. I wish we had it back now. Some of that kind of stuff got done. I had my fingers in the middle of some of it too. There was no where near the sensitivity to cultural resources that there is today. That’s a huge improvement…And now we’ve actively saved things like up on Boreas Pass and the old Roberts cabin on the Tarryall. Now the worm has turned and we’ve saved (some of our cultural heritage). Old ranger stations, the Bassom Ranger Station clear down in the southwest corner of the Park which is in the San Isabel National Forest is not going to be torn down now. It’s part of the rental cabin program. It’s been an interesting change. I can’t think of an area where there’s been much more of a change in Forest Service attitude. All the rest (mining, grazing, timber harvest, and recreation) of it has been an evolution.”
Hartsel-Guffey areas of central and southwestern Park County
The Prohibition Years of 1919-1933 created many opportunities for the illegal whiskey making operation especially in the more remote portions of America. Park County is not without its “still stories”. The following excerpt is from an interview by Cara Doyle with Maurice Ownbey of Guffey on 9/11/02. Maurice and his brother, Frank worked on the EM Ranch (now called the Santa Maria Ranch) on the Middle Fork of the South Platte River near Hartsel from 1939-44. The E-M name came from the brand used by the Chalmers-Galloway Livestock Company that first started the ranch around 1877. The Chalmers and Galloways were Scottish sheep men. In the interview Maurice described how big city gangsters would pay farmers and ranchers several hundred dollars per month to set up and operate hidden distilleries on their land. “Now there’s stories about it (illegal whiskey making) south of Hartsel. Some people that homesteaded out there said that they (gangsters) hired people out there to have stills. There’s a piece of one right there (pointing to metal tubing in the corner of his room). That’s where the steam came out. Anyhow I found that at one of the old homesteads. They said that those gangsters had lookouts—they had a place over here called Whiskey Rock. And they had lookouts up there to watch for the revenuers and the sheriff. I didn’t know if that was true or not but these people lived out there in the early twenties say so. One day I was walking around the side of that hill looking for arrowheads and I came onto one of their stands. Just a little flat board and it was propped so it was just a flat place to stand. They could stand or sit right on the side (of the hill). The hill was steep. And I found that stand right on the side of the hill so I believed them. Whiskey Rock is off Highway 9 between Guffey and Hartsel. The land has been subdivided so much you can hardly get in there any more. But there’s a creek that goes down there. Do you know where the Buffalo Sloughs are? Right after you come out of the hills into the park there’s a creek that goes across the road down there and that’s Buffalo Slough. If you follow (the creek) up far enough back up this way you’ll find Whiskey Rock.”
Glentivar area approximately 12 miles east-northeast of Hartsel
Homesteading in South Park during the 1930s was difficult and sometimes families were pressed to put enough food on the table. The next excerpt is from the interview with Wilbur Lewis carried out by Linda Bjorklund in July 2002 at the Hartsel Library. “Mrs. Caylor (of Lake George) taught at another school, if the map is right and my recollection is right, on beyond Glentivar and a little to the north. There’s some people in there by the name of Heisler. Both Heisler boys came to school here. I don’t know why they came to Hartsel to school but my uncle had them in school. They (the Heisler family) were homesteading out there. The one Heisler boy that was in school at this time—this would have been in the thirties—he would never eat with the rest of them. And finally my uncle got a little bit nosy, and he would kind of saunter by. And day after day all that boy had was a boiled potato. And so my uncle just happened to have an extra part of a sandwich. And he’d say: “You know I don’t dare take this home. The wife will be mad if I do. So you go ahead and eat it for me.” The kid knew what was up but he didn’t say. When they got out of school he brought my aunt a nice little old yellow arrowhead, that was all he had to give her, you know, but he knew where those extra sandwiches came from and why they did. People were poor at that time, but he was just ashamed of that potato.”
During the 1920s and 1930s most of the Hartsel families got their water from a town pump. A Mrs. Clevenger had her own well. George Locke who owned and ran the South Park Mercantile and Gene Klein who ran the Hartsel Mercantile both had their own wells. Most everyone else used the town pump. Bathing was also a problem so the Hartsel Springs’ baths were frequented especially by the ranch cowboys. Wilbur Lewis took Linda Bjorklund on a fieldtrip to visit the remnants of the old Hartsel Springs baths behind the Midland Railroad Depot. “And there was a pump that set down in here. And even when I moved back—I went to the army in 1961-63, and I came back, and I could still go over there and start that pump and take a bath. I lived up on the hill by the big house or the old hotel and there was no way of taking a bath up there. But I’d come over here and the Hartsel Ranch guys would do that a lot too. They kept those two cast-iron tubs. Before (in earlier years) there was a ladies side which was the east side. The men’s side was the west side. It was divided in the middle. And they had three or four tubs and there was just little wooden dividers and you had a bench and everything. And there was a little porch, an inside porch in there and then an outside porch. This was enclosed and they would take the money in there and there were old wicker chairs.”
The next excerpts were taken from a long interview with Bud Anderson (age 85) when he and his wife, Betty, were living in Pueblo West on September 29, 2005. Bud Anderson and his family are closely associated historically with the Colorado and Southern Narrow-gauge Railroad in Como and Leadville. Bud’s dad, Alvin “Brownie” Anderson, Sr. and his uncle, Tom Gibbony spent their careers working the railroads there—Brownie for 42 years and Tom Gibbony for 50 years. Tom Klinger and Bob Schoppe joined Linda Bjorklund on the interview team because of their experience with the Colorado narrow-gauge railroads. To continue with the Prohibition and Moonshining theme we pick up a story that Bud Anderson remembered in Como during the early 1930s. Tom asked what people did for liquor during prohibition. Bud: “Well, there were several bootleggers. One bootlegger worked on the railroad—got fired for bootlegging. They (the moonshiners) lived on the old Martin Ranch behind the cemetery. While we’re mentioning names, George and Syd Duffey lived there. George used to moonshine and had his stills out at the end of the lane. And the Feds (treasury agents) were always coming out of Denver. They would get on the train, and they were always after George. They had him in jail one time, and I think they just fined him and let him go. But they’d (Feds) leave the depot at Union Station in Denver and the dispatcher would type some kind of a message that the Feds were on the train. So George and Syd had a big long spyglass and so they’d see the train coming in. The Feds thought they would be real cute and when the train was turning at the wye (approximately a half mile from Como) they would get off at the wye and walk in. (The trains would turn at the wye and back in to Como to be headed in the proper direction for the trip to Leadville or back to Denver.) The treasury agents would walk all the way up to the old Martin place and read the search warrant to raid the ranch up there. Syd Duffey met them at the door with a butcher knife and held them off so George could pour the hooch out. The agents ran in and caught some in their felt hats. They said, “George, we’ve got you now!” What they didn’t know was that the whiskey went through the felt hats and they didn’t have any evidence.”
Bud continuing: “George had two horses. One was named Fly and the other was a gelding named Brownie, after my dad. So one day he (George) went down to hook the horses up to go out to where the still was, a big long lane going toward Boreas Pass. A bee stung the mare and it took off running. George was sitting in the old wagon and got clear down in. There were big trees down at the end, one on one side and one on the other. The wagon tipped and George flew up in the air, came down and broke his leg—sitting there north of town. There was only one phone in town, that was at the depot. They called old Doc Durbin in Fairplay (to come and fix George’s leg).
Tom asked Bud what the moonshiners did with the old leftover mash from the stills in Como. Bud: “Well there was a second well in back of one house where they (moonshiners) were living. A man there named Johnson was a Swede who couldn’t speak English. So they threw the mash down this old well. (Apparently it was a shallow hand-dug well.) Grandpa Gibbony had eight or ten pigs. The pigs ate that mash and got drunk and couldn’t move. So grandpa tried to sober up the pigs by pouring water on them. Once sobered up a little bit they’d go right back and eat that mash again. The sheriff found out about this and came over and took George and Mr. Johnson to jail. My dad used to say that all Johnson could say in Swedish was: “What would all my relatives in Sweden think about my being in jail!”
“Brownie” Anderson in Leadville
Bud Anderson’s dad, Brownie worked as a fireman on Engine 60 in Leadville during the early 1920s. “Dad used to tell stories about how they (the Engine 60 crew) would stop at Baby Doe’s shack (Baby Doe Tabor at her shack at the Matchless Mine) and how Oscar Perschbacher, their brakeman, was the only one she would let in her cabin. So (he and the train crew) would load up gunny sacks full of coal and Oscar would put them in her (Baby Doe’s) cabin so she had plenty of fuel. And dad would tell about Ward Walsh who had a grocery store on Poplar Street in Leadville. Baby Doe used to come in there (to the Walsh grocery). She’d walk in (from the Matchless Mine) and she’d order flour, bacon, eggs, whatever she wanted. And when she got it all packaged up she’d say: “Put it on Horaces’ bill.” Well, Horace was dead (died in 1899) so they never billed her.” (Baby Doe died in her shack at the Matchless Mine in March of 1935.)
Garo was a ranching and railroad town from the 1880s until 1936 when the Colorado & Southern Narrow-gauge railroading ended. Garo is a short version of Guiraud (early South Park ranchers who had a large cattle and hay ranch near the railroad line there). The Turner general store and post office was beside the railroad at Garo. The next series of stories center around the Garo general store started by Chubb Newitt and later run by the Turner family. This first action occurred around 1898. According to Wilbur Lewis in his interview of July 2002 of stories he had heard. Wilbur: “Then in 1891 he (Chubb Newitt) got elected County Commissioner, but he was still running the store. He was in the store one day and some fellow came in and they were looking at the guns. They happened to drop one that had ammunition and it went off and shot poor old Chubb in the butt and he died of blood poisoning.”
We now advance to somewhere between 1900 and 1905 in the stories told to Wilbur by his grandfather. When asked if he knew the Turners of Garo, Wilbur replied: “I knew Frank and his wife. They had moved up to Garo and they lived on that old place up there. Of course my granddad knew them from way back. There was Frank and there was Fred. They were still living at the store with their folks (William B. Turner and his wife). The boys were out, and for some reason Fred got caught in a trap (Probably a steel trap for coyotes. The trap jaws are closed by a stiff spring that requires two strong hands to pry open. With one hand in the trap you are caught. The trap would have been attached by a chain to a stake driven firmly into the ground.) someplace—got his hand caught and Frank couldn’t get him out. Well it was about suppertime, and they didn’t dare miss supper. He ran on home and Mom says: “Get in there and get to eatin”. Well he did and kinda spaced out. “Where’s Fred?” Oh, he’s in a trap up there. This is after he’d eaten about half his supper.” (Fred was about 12 or 13 and Frank about 10. Unfortunately life doesn’t get a lot better for poor Fred. He will soon be called for military service during WWI and be killed in battle.)
Frank Turner’s two sisters, Clara and Ann, would eventually help run the Garo Store. Old William Turner was tending the store when this next story occurred in the recollection of Wilbur Lewis: “Walt Merritt was telling me this. He went in to buy a rope and there was a lariat rope hanging from the ceiling (of the Garo Store)—about 25-feet, enough to make a lariat. “So Mr. Turner I’d like to buy that rope. My lariat is about shot.” Turner says: “That’s the last I got left. Somebody may want to come in and buy that.” And he wouldn’t sell it to him. That’s the way the old man was.” Wilbur continuing: “And the girls (probably referring to Clara and Ann), this is the interesting part about Garo. One of the girls married a fella by the name of Lilley. I think he was a cowboy. But one never married. And they run that old store. And when you’d go in that store it would it would probably take you thirty minutes to get what you needed because they talked so slow.”
Frank would get married around 1926 and have two daughters, Veronica and Jessica. The marriage would end in divorce but he would remarry in 1936. His second wife, Faye, relates this story of Garo ranch life before electric refrigeration. Excerpt taken from the interview with Faye Turner conducted in 2002 by Marie Chisholm. Marie asked how they preserved the meat and vegetables on the ranch. Faye: “We didn’t try to preserve vegetables much. But we had what we called a meat house. That’s where we kept milk. But there was this screened-in place so a fly couldn’t possibly get in there. And we’d hang half a beef, and we’d try to sell the other half. There was a stream that run underneath it (the meat house) and it cracked up the cement but it (the cool water) didn’t come up in there. It was as cool as you could get it. Of course, a certain time of the year if we were caught with it getting too warm…we had these huge big jars. And we would put the meat down in them in a brine and corn it. So we had corned beef. And every once in a while we’d corn the fish. Before Frank died (he passed away in 1968 at age 78) if he’d catch too many fish for us to eat. Well, then when we finally got electricity that all changed.” (IREA brought electric power to the Turner Ranch in Garo around 1945.)
Deer Valley, Northeastern Park County
Henry Wonder began homesteading in the Deer Creek Valley just after the Civil War around 1865. He had learned farming and blacksmith skills in Pennsylvania. Henry proved up his 360-acre homestead when he was still a young man of about 25. On May 4, 1879 Henry married Maggie Campbell, a sister to Christy (Campbell) Head—wife of Willard Head in Jefferson. Henry had two sons, Malcolm and John and a daughter, Sydney. As the boys grew they helped Henry add another 360 acres to the Wonder Homestead Ranch. In August of 1909 Malcolm Wonder married a schoolteacher, Alice Bonnifield. Alice was somehow related to the McLaughlin family. Robert Wonder was born to this union on February 15, 1918.
Cara Doyle interviewed Robert Wonder for an oral history on June 11, 2002 in Shawnee where he had retired late in life. Robert related that there was some Ku Klux Klan activity being organized in Park County in 1924 and the Flume of that year indicated that this secret organization became a contentious issue in the political elections of that year. As a 6-year old boy Robert was confronted with a terrifying sheet-covered rider who tossed a flaming can of kerosene or gasoline into the Wonder homestead residence. Their home was completely consumed. The KKK also reportedly burned a cross near the Bailey Store that year. This is how Robert remembers the locals putting a stop to this activity. “The McGraws who owed the store then went down to Canon City and got Warden Roy Best. He brought up bloodhounds and some of his people and when they started tracing down (the perpetrators) that stopped the action of that group in this part of the country.” It remains unclear why the Klan targeted the Wonder Family. Perhaps a member of the family had threatened to expose the identity of certain KKK members? No person was ever brought to justice for this criminal arson. Henry Wonder died in 1921 and Malcolm and Alice moved to Pitkin. Alice recertified her teaching credentials in Gunnison before 1929. Alice Wonder had a long and illustrious teaching career in the Park County schools.
Park County Local History Archives
Department of Heritage & Tourism, Park County
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Fairplay, CO 80440
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Fairplay, CO 80440
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- Archives Collaboration with University of Denver September 23, 2020
- Remembering Ada B. Evans, the First African American Mayor in Colorado and Her Legacy in Park County, Colorado on The South Park Heritage Experience July 7, 2020
- A. F. Willmarth, Historical Park County, Colorado Sketch Artist June 2, 2020
- A Huge Loss for the Park County Local History Archives and Park County August 8, 2017
- Remembering Ada B. Evans by Linda Bjorkland February 18, 2017