Tag Archive for: Brush Creek Colorado

Castle: A Little Town with Big Ambitions

   

        Castle: A Little Town with Big Ambitions

Richard Perske, December 2021

The town of Eagle has not always been known by that name. The small community went through several name changes in the 1880s and 1890s  before being incorporated in 1905 and officially becoming the town of Eagle, Colorado.

Photo by Alda Borah captures Castle Peak in 1910

The journey began in 1885 when William Edwards developed a townsite and a U.S. Post Office near the junction of the Eagle River and Brush Creek. Edwards named the settlement “Castle.” The settlement was situated adjacent to Edward’s ranch on a level and nearly treeless rise with a nice view of Castle Peak to the north. Early wagon road access to Castle came from Squaw Creek over Bellyache Ridge and down the fertile Brush Creek Valley.

The arrival of the railroad brought big changes to Castle. Construction of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad through the lower Eagle River Valley involved thousands of workmen, horses, and mules, creating an economic boom in 1886 and 1887. Edwards envisioned a thriving town serving both the coming railroad, nearby ranches, and the mines of the promising Fulford mining district. Castle eventually passed through a succession of ambitious and wealthy owners whose personal fortunes rose and fell with the value of their silver mines.

A locomotive powers across the railroad bridgeinEagle in the 1930s. The wooden trestle was replaced in 1934.

The 1887 arrival of the railroad connected Castle to the outside world. All railroad facilities were carefully mapped and named  to ensure the efficient delivery of passengers, freight, and mail to locations along the tracks. Within four years a series of actions by the D&RG and the U.S. Post Office re-identified the little community of “Castle” as “Eagle” (the more commonly used name). That’s the name that eventually stuck, although there were some in-between names, also.

The D&RG extended tracks 30 miles down valley along the north bank of the Eagle River from the mines at Rock Creek (Gilman) to just above Castle, where a substantial railroad bridge was required to cross the Eagle River. In August 1887, the D&RG established a watering stop and siding near this bridge that it initially named “Eagle River Crossing.” The railroad siding served Castle, the Brush Creek agricultural community, and the new Fulford mining district. All Rio Grande passengers, freight, and mail bound for those destinations were ticketed to “Eagle River Crossing” (not “Castle”). That began the Castle community’s name transitions.

The Colorado Business Directory of 1890 lists Eagle River Crossing with a population of 25.

Clark Wheeler gets involved

In 1891 Aspen millionaire B. Clark Wheeler invested heavily in the Fulford mining district, purchasing Edward’s ranch as well as the original town site of Castle. He believed that centrally-located Castle would soon become the Eagle County seat and planned to build a branch line railroad up Brush Creek to serve his promising mining properties.  Wheeler began by enlarging adding and selling additional lots to the Castle community. A.H. (Art) Fulford acted as Wheeler’s “attorney,” on the real estate deals. Fulford was also the construction superintendent for the wagon road from the Brush Creek forks to Fulford. Art and his brother Mont had recently built a modern livery stable in Castle. The Fulford family owned a ranch and stage route “halfway house” located just below the Brush Creek forks (currently the site of the Sylvan Lake Visitor Center).

In 1891 the D&RG upgraded their original siding, adding a station platform with ore bins and renamed it “Eagle Station.” In August 1891 the Post Office name was officially changed from “Castle” to “Eagle.” From this point on the community was universally referred to as Eagle, Colorado.

Among the artifacts in the ECHS/EVLD collection is this envelope addressed to F. E. Grant. Note that the writer took care to write the address of both “Castle” and “Eagle” on the envelope, likely ensuring that it would reach its destination during a time of community name transition.

Art Fulford died in a backcountry avalanche on New Year’s Eve Dec. 31, 1891, just as the Fulford mining district and town of Fulford were starting to develop. Many gold mines were dug into the hills around Fulford in 1892 and 1893 but no bonanza ore bodies had been located.

By August of 1893, the Silver Panic and steeply declining silver prices idled many Colorado silver mines and smelters. Lower grades of silver ore could not be mined, transported, and smelted at a profit. Wheeler, facing mounting losses from his Aspen silver mines, sold his Eagle County holdings. Fortunately, he found a newly-made Eagle County millionaire, Alexander Angus McDonald, willing to invest in the still-thriving gold mines. In December 1893 A. A. McDonald bought Wheeler’s enlarged townsite of Castle and took leases and bonds on Wheeler’s Nolan Creek (Fulford area) mines. McDonald also embraced Wheeler’s vision that Castle should become the Eagle County seat. He announced plans to improve his little town by building a “brick block” business section and planting thousands of shade trees.

The McDonald era

The man on the far right, top row in this late 1890s photo is believed to be Alexander Angus McDonald, who once owned whatis now the town of Eagle.

 Born in Canada of Scottish ancestry, McDonald’s path to a miner’s riches had been rocky. In May 1884 his home and boarding house (Glengarry House) in Leadville burned to the ground in a major fire. In June, his wife took their two young daughters back to Silver Cliff and filed for divorce. McDonald was fond of drink and enjoyed a party when he could afford it. He relocated to Battle Mountain and Gilman, taking up small stakes and leases in existing mines. In early 1891 he secured an exclusive lease and bond on the Belden mine, one of the original Battle Mountain mines. The locals considered it to be “a worked-out proposition”.  McDonald re-timbered the old workings, re-started production, and explored deeper for new ore bodies. Belden soon began paying off. He also discovered an extremely rich ore body that he blocked out and kept in reserve for future development. The terms of his lease required that a 25%  royalty from the Belden’s ore smelter income be paid to the mine owners in Boston. McDonald shrewdly limited his ore production to the tonnage necessary to pay off the bond and acquire full ownership of the Belden. By March 1893 he was the sole owner of the Belden. He then increased ore production and began shipping his richest ores without the need to make royalty payments.

In April 1893 the Leadville newspapers reported that several single carloads of the rich Belden ore set smelter records with returns of over $2,100 each. The money started rolling in. Belden’s amazing success was reported statewide. By June 1893 McDonald’s monthly income was reportedly $75,000 and Belden’s ore reserves were estimated at $1.5 million.  During the worst of the 1893 panic the very rich Belden ore could still be produced at a profit. That summer, McDonald kept all the Battle Mountain miners working and on his payroll by getting creative with work shifts. The miners were very grateful for steady work despite smaller paychecks. McDonald became a very popular Gilman millionaire.

                           

                      BULLY FOR THE BELDEN

              It is Keeping all of the Battle Mountain Miners at Work.

  The report of the closing down of the Belden mine at Red cliff was an unfortunate error into which our reporters were led. It is not only not closed, but is in full operation and the mainstay of the Battle mountain district, not only giving employment, by rotation, to nearly every miner in camp, but contributing largely toward keeping the American Smelter, in this city, in blast. The owner of the Belden , Mr. A.A. McDonald, has a contract with this concern for sixty tons a day, and is working three eight-hour shifts, employing 120 men, but dividing the work among all of the industrious miners of the district, to the end that none may suffer for the necessaries or be compelled to move out, pending the settlement of the silver question.

Leadville Herald Democrat                             

 August 25, 1893

 

Now a state senator,  B. Clark Wheeler owned the Aspen Times newspaper, the Aspen Mining Stock Exchange, and several silver mines in Aspen. Wheeler had also invested heavily in the Town of Castle and the Nolan Creek Mining Company properties in partnership with A.H. Fulford.

Wheeler was well connected politically and keenly aware of the economic impact of the silver crash and coming recession. He was financially over-extended in mining and land speculation and was absolutely delighted to sell some of his holdings to McDonald.

 

                             NEWS OF THE MINES

   A.A. McDonald the bonanza owner of the Belden mine at Gilman has proposed to the Aspen Belt Mining and Milling company to sink a big deep shaft on five claims of the company located at Fulford for a $50,000 bond and a three years’ lease. The directors will meet in Aspen today to authorize and execute the papers.   J.H. Good, J.A. Campbell, Captain W.F. Kavanagh, and B. Clark Wheeler are the heavy stockholders of the company. Mr. Wheeler has sold the townsite of Eagle and the adjoining ranch to Mr. McDonald, who will soon inaugurate a campaign of improvement at Eagle in the way of a brick block and several thousand shade trees. Next fall the county seat of Eagle county will probably be changed to Eagle.

                                                  Aspen Weekly Times                             

December 2, 1893

There were just a few buildings in Eagle in the mid-1890s. The tent structure on the left may have been McDonald’s July 4th dance pavilion. The original railroad bridge is on the right, adjacent to the two-story building.

 Contrary to popular legend, McDonald did not “buy the town site for back taxes”. He bought the undeveloped town lots from B. Clark Wheeler and paid the back taxes Wheeler owed. Initially Mr. McDonald had very ambitious plans to improve the little community that included his idea for a new name: “McDonald.” In 1894 he had a revised town site land survey prepared, platted, and filed with the Eagle County recorder as the town site of McDonald. However, the post office, D&RG Railroad, and everyone else continued to call the community “Eagle”.

McDonald promotes Eagle

Now connected by the railroad to the world beyond, the community of Eagle would soon be impacted by economic and political events far beyond Colorado. The population of Eagle was still less than 100 with a school enrollment of about 30 students. McDonald devised a grand plan to put Eagle on the map. In 1894 he spared no expense to host a gigantic 4th of July celebration featuring $1,000 in cash prizes for drilling contests, horse races, bicycle races, and even some traditional Scottish athletic contests. McDonald lavishly advertised the event in newspapers statewide and negotiated with the D&RG railroad to provide special half- priced passenger fares. He also constructed a racetrack and erected a large canvas dancing pavilion. It was Flight Days on steroids and a huge crowd was anticipated.

                                           The Eagle Will Scream

Mr. Frank Farnum, general road overseer of Eagle county and an old-time resident of Red Cliff is in the city. “Business has been very quiet with us, but we have tried to forget our troubles and are arranging a gala Fourth of July celebration at Eagle, about thirty-five miles below Red cliff.” said Mr. Farnum. “There is a large force of men at work building a race track, dancing pavilion, etc.”

  “Crops in the valley are looking fine and the farmers look for a big season.”

 

                                             Leadville Herald Democrat                            

 June 28, 1894

In June 1894 Mr. McDonald placed advertisements in almost every newspaper in western Colorado, inviting everyone to Eagle.

 

Although sizeable crowds were anticipated, the gala event experienced a major last minute problem when railroad labor disputes and riots in Chicago resulted in a rail strike. All rail traffic in western Colorado stopped on July 2, 1894. McDonald’s special trains were not available. The people who did manage to attend reportedly had a very good time.

McDonald the politician

 In 1895 McDonald entered the political arena. He vigorously campaigned for the office of State Representative and initiated a special election to move the Eagle County seat.                                      

  A petition is being circulated in Eagle county asking for the calling of a special election to change the county seat from Red Cliff to the town of Eagle.  A.A. McDonald, the owner of the Belden mine, is the principal mover in the enterprise, having bought the town site from B. Clark Wheeler.

Aspen Weekly Times                                     

June 8, 1895

The county seat question was placed on the November 1895 ballot. At this time Eagle’s population was slightly less than 100. Considering populations of nearly 400 in Red Cliff, 450 in Gilman, and 200 in Minturn, it would seem that little Eagle would not have a chance at winning.  However rural voters from Basalt, Gypsum and Brush Creek supported the move to Eagle and there was a rivalry between Red Cliff and more the populous Gilman on Battle Mountain (Mr. McDonald’s home base). Eagle did receive the most votes for the county seat, but lawsuits, injunctions, and court appeals by Red Cliff prevented the move. In 1899, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the 1895 county seat special election was unconstitutional because voting had been limited to “taxpayers,” preventing many from voting. That decision ended the first legal battle in what became a 25 year long Eagle County seat war between Red Cliff and Eagle.

McDonald also ran for office as State Representative on the Republican ticket in 1895 but was narrowly defeated.

In December 1895 Mr. McDonald sold one-half interest in the Belden mine for $600,000 and turned the mine’s daily management over to the buyers. He then began investing in mining property and real estate, but lady luck had deserted him. Within a few years his lavish spending, generous loans, and speculative mining investments exhausted his fortune. He advertised his remaining lots in Eagle for sale and listed Frank Doll (another prominent Eagle County pioneer) as his real estate agent.

McDonald had remarried in 1895 and was the father of two small children when he suddenly died of pneumonia at Gilman on April 3, 1899, at the age of 43. His death was reported statewide and his large funeral service in Red Cliff was well attended. McDonald had recently taken another mining lease on Battle Mountain and was anticipating a big strike and a financial comeback. His obituary noted that McDonald’s unbounded generosity and his boastful “gasconading” style had contributed to his downfall. He had always been a gambler and risk taker.  He began as a miner working for wages.  The Belden bonanza, his ultimate success, made him a millionaire for a few short years before he gambled it all away.

Eagle finally became the county seat in 1921, ending the bitter 26-year war that A. A. McDonald had so eagerly started. The bonanza owner of the Belden did win in the end and a much larger town of Eagle, once a pioneer community named “Castle,” marked its 100th year as the Eagle County seat in 2021, thanks to efforts and ambitions of Alexander Angus McDonald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Borah Journals: A Chronicle of pioneer life

The Borah Journals: A Chronicle of pioneer life, by Kathy Heicher [published with the permission of Vail Valley Magazine, Winter 2022 edition. Readers can pick up a hard copy containing this article at many locations in the Eagle Valley.]

Jake and Alfred Borah slipped quietly into Eagle County in the early 1880s. They would prove to be among the most influential of Eagle County pioneers.

Alfred Borah

Like nearly every male who arrived at that time, the Kentucky born-and-raised brothers were lured to the Colorado mountains by the Leadville silver mining boom. Within a few years, both brothers moved down into the Eagle River Valley. Alfred, the older of the two, took  up a homestead on Brush Creek (where the Frost Creek golf course is now located) in 1882. In 1885, younger brother Jake settled in the Gypsum Creek Valley.

Although they always prospected, the Borahs were skilled outdoorsmen and soon gained prominence as hunting guides and outfitters. They also market-hunted for the mining camps, bringing in wagonloads of deer and elk meat.

Borah hunting camp

Jake, the more gregarious of the brothers with a particular gift for storytelling, eventually made the hunting guide business his life’s work. His clients included European royalty and wealthy Americans. Jake gained national prominence in 1905 when he guided President Teddy Roosevelt’s Colorado hunting adventure.

Yet it is Alfred, the older, quieter Borah, who will most likely have the greatest impact on local history. A meticulous record keeper, Alfred maintained a journal in which he noted the daily details of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He documented details as mundane as the cost of groceries at the general store and as dramatic as Ute uprisings and pioneer murders. And threaded throughout the pages of those journals is a sweet love story and revelations of unexpected tenderness by these tough mountain men.

Borah family descendants recently donated the hand-written journals to the Eagle County Historical Society, which partnered with the Eagle Valley Library District in archiving, digitizing, and transcribing the records. With the click of a computer mouse, the public can now step into the life of an Eagle County pioneer.

 

Prospecting the “Indian Country”
             May 11, 1882

Left Leadville Thursday To Prospect the Indian Country. Jake & I Pack up bright & early in the Morning & got to Red Cliff. Bought bill Grub & got down to Jack bridge on Eagle River & camped overnight.

Alfred Borah journal

The “Indian Country” that the Borah brothers were venturing into (the Eagle River and Roaring Fork Valleys) had indeed recently been Ute territory. The entire Western Slope of Colorado was Ute territory until white settlers and miners began to covet the land. Starting in 1868, the government negotiated (and broke) a series of increasingly restrictive treaties taking land away from the Utes and dictating where the natives could live. By September 1881, most of the Utes in Colorado had been forced off of their native lands and onto the stark and harsh lands of designated reservations, primarily in eastern Utah.

Treaty terms allowed the Utes to return temporarily to their former territory to hunt. Alfred’s journals reveal that the brothers periodically encountered Ute camps and used those opportunities for trading hides and meat. Alfred also reported on the occasional Ute-settler skirmishes that occurred when the natives ventured off the reservations.

Hunting and homesteading

Alfred was a heart-broken widower when he homesteaded 120 acres on Brush Creek in 1882. For several years he notes that his birthday, Feb. 13, marked the anniversary of his wife’s burial. “My Birthdays are not a happy day to me any more,” he wrote in 1884.

Between 1882 and 1885, the Borahs supplemented their prospecting by market hunting, trapping, and guiding tourists on big game hunts. They roamed the Western Slope of Colorado, tent camping year-around. Jake eventually built up a hunting outfit of 75 pack animals, 20 hounds, and numerous wagons and tents.

By today’s standards, the market hunting business is shocking. Alfred’s journal reports that in the 20 months between  May 1882 and February 1884, the Borahs killed 288 deer, 30 elk, 61 bear, 52 beaver, two wild cats (bobcats, lynx, or mountain lions), two rabbits, six ducks, 11 grouse, quail, a bighorn sheep, a wolf, and a fox.

Jake Borah

The companionable Jake was known for welcoming visitors to his campfire with  a hot pot of coffee and a sizzling elk, venison, or bear steak. The stoic Alfred managed the finances and recorded business transactions, and on one occasion bailed Jake out of the Leadville jail following an arrest for drunkenness. The brothers constantly bartered, trading game meat for saddles, or horses and mules for furs.

The journals reveal a tenderness for their work animals. In 1884 both men mourn when their favorite hunting dog, Fan, died after giving birth to three puppies. Alfred writes of shedding tears a month later when an old, trusty horse froze to death in a March blizzard.

A serious wagon accident on Tennessee Pass in November of 1886 likely turned Alfred’s focus from hunting to homesteading. Alfred was driving the wagon from Leadville to Red Cliff when it tipped and rolled 100 feet down a steep embankment. The horses were uninjured, but Alfred suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg. A Red Cliff doctor set the bones after removing several sizable fragments, but for the rest of his life Alfred suffered pain and infections in the damaged leg.

Jake continued to develop the guiding and outfitting business. Alfred turned his attention to making his homestead tract of unbroken wild sage and willows into a fine 480 acre ranch. He raised cattle, hay, grain, and vegetables.

Pioneer romance

The first mention of Miss Mary Grant, a Leadville woman, appears on July 5, 1884, when Alfred notes that he took her on a horseback ride across Tennessee Park (between Leadville and Red Cliff). To say their relationship developed slowly would be an understatement.

Alfred was still roaming the Western Slope, hunting with Jake. Mary and Alfred exchanged scores of letters, but he often went weeks without being near a post office. Personal meetings were rare, but he did occasionally take her to a dance or on a fishing excursion. He gifted her a saddle and bridle.

1/1 1886 Friday Staid [Stayed] about Town at night went to Dance at union Hall to Club, took Miss Mary Grant had a good time.

Alfred Borah journal

Mary, Al, and Mittie Borah

Alfred had a long-term plan, He persuaded Mary’s widowed mother to homestead a parcel of land adjacent to the railroad track at Eagle. He helped build a cabin, barn, and corrals. Once the women moved in, he visited Mary more frequently while her mother chaperoned.

On March 18, 1888, nearly four years after they met, Alfred and Mary shared several kisses (duly noted in the journal) as she strolled on the road with him on a wintry night. In June, he helped Mary file a homestead claim adjacent to his Brush Creek parcel.

In September, Alfred traveled by train to Leadville to purchase a gold engagement ring and delivered it to Mary in a memorable fashion. Alfred was meeting a hunting client in Glenwood, so hopped on the westbound express train. The express train slowed at the local stations but did not actually stop. By pre-arrangement, Mary stood out in her mother’s yard (adjacent to the railroad tracks) when Alfred’s train passed through Eagle. He placed the ring in an envelope and threw it off the moving train to Mary. The engagement was official.

The couple married in a small ceremony in Leadville on April 16, 1889. Alfred dutifully recorded the cost of the marriage license ($3) and preacher ($5). The newlyweds spent one night in Leadville then returned to his Brush Creek cabin. That evening, the “boys of the neighborhood” shivareed the newlyweds­ –– a frontier custom involving  a loud serenade with tooting horns, ringing bells, and clanging pots and pans. The relentless noise ended only when Alfred invited the revelers into the cabin for some generous drinks of whiskey. Alfred was 44 on his wedding day and Mary was 31.

Mary became a true partner at the ranch, working alongside her husband. Journal entries reveal that Mary suffered a couple of miscarriages, but on Dec. 4, 1896, gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Mittie Alda. She was a beloved only child. It was Mitty who preserved her father’s journals, and her granddaughter who donated them to the Eagle County Historical Society.

With his family established, Alfred focused on developing his land into one of the best ranches in Eagle County. He was involved in the community, helping to build the little log school that Mittie would attend, and serving on the school board.  Neighbors knew they could count on Alfred Borah for help and advice.

One year after Alfred’s marriage, Jake married local belle Minnie Hockett. Their adventurous life included operating hunting and fishing resorts at Deep Lake (on the Flat Tops, northwest of Dotsero) and at Trapper’s Lake. They maintained a ranch on Gypsum Creek and raised two sons. Jake’s hunting adventures took him all over the western United States and into Mexico. His famous clients invariably became his fast friends. Jake died in 1929 and is buried in Gypsum.

Alfred’s health issues prompted his family to move to Arizona in 1917. He died in Phoenix in 1923.

Credit Alfred for his persistence in maintaining those pioneer journals, and his daughter Mittie for preserving the fragile books. Eagle County now has a treasure trove of local history that will delight many future generations of researchers.

Mary and Alda Borah

The digitized Borah Journals and photographs are accessible via the Eagle Valley Library District website (evld.org) and at eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.

 

Kathy Heicher worked as a reporter and editor at newspaper in the valley for over 40 years. She is the president of the Eagle County Historical Society and is just completed writing her fourth local history book. Her work has earned History Colorado’s Caroline Bancroft Award for contributing to the advancement of Colorado history. She is the go-to person if you are seeking gossip of 1890s Eagle County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2021 Josephine Miles Award

 Borah Journals Project Wins State History Award

The Eagle County Historical Society and the Eagle Valley Library District are being honored by History Colorado for a several-year project involving digitization of the Alfred Borah Journals. The project is the winner of the 2021 Josephine Miles award, which honors outstanding projects that further understanding of Colorado history in exemplary and unique ways.

Borah was a homesteader on Brush Creek in 1882 who kept a meticulous daily journal detailing everything about his life. The journals have been photographed, transcribed, and are accessible on-line at via the eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com or evld.org websites https://evld.marmot.org/Archive/evld%3A11904/Exhibit.

Borah hunting camp circa 1890

The journals are significant in that Borah documents the details of pioneer life ranging from details as mundane as the price of 10 pounds of flour in 1885 to reports of mining accidents and murders. Borah’s writing also reveals the challenges pioneers faced whether it be dealing with a middle-of-the-night lice infestation, daunting weather conditions, crude medical care, the joy of a Friday night dance at the schoolhouse, and the heartbreak of a young wife’s death. The digitization of the journals makes this information easily available to the public with a few clicks of the computer mouse.

“This was a complicated project that involved multiple agencies, persistence, and some fortuitous timing,” noted ECHS President Kathy Heicher, “The journals offer a look into county history for current residents and also will serves as a valuable information source for future researchers.”

For more information go to:

https://www.vaildaily.com/news/history-colorado-to-award-locals-for-work-in-preserving-alfred-borah-photos-and-journals-from-1882-to-1917/

 

A Cup of Clear Cold Water 2021

New Look–Same Wonderful Stories

The Eagle County Historical Society has re-printed the Helen Dice memoir, “A Cup of Clear Cold Water: Life on Brush Creek.” This is the fourth re-print of this popular book which features a colorful new cover and the same beloved stories.

First published in 1980, Dice tells the story of life as a rancher’s wife on Brush Creek during the great depression. She shares the details of the hard work and difficult lessons, as well as the joy of living in a beautiful mountain community. Dice even shares a little gossip about the neighbors.

This is a must-have for your collection of local history books. Purchase for $19.99 from our website at eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com. Also available at the ECHS history museum in Eagle (open 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Friday through Monday), Batson’s Corner in Eagle, and the Bookworm in Edwards.

We will be selling books at a booth at the Eagle Artwalk on Friday, June 11.

 

Time Travel

Time Travel

What happens when a pandemic makes it impossible to open your museum?

The exhibits pack up their bags and go travelling.

The Eagle County Historical Society has developed several new exhibits which are now on display in public spaces throughout the county. If you are out and about, stop by and take in a little local history. Here’s where you’ll find it:

 

Eagle Town Hall – Photo exhibit reveals Brush Creek’s history, including the story of the short-lived Lady Belle silver mine on Horse Mountain.

Brush Creek history exhibit

 

Eagle County Administration Building – Head upstairs to the hallway outside of the commissioner’s meeting room for a look at historic clothing from the pioneering Nottingham family. Myrtle Nottingham had some engineering talent hiding behind those beautiful dresses.

Nottingham display

 

Eagle Public Library – Two stories are told in exhibits on the second floor, in the Local History Department. Learn about the impact of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic in Eagle County. Then take a look at the county’s first ballot box and learn how it put trust into elections.

Pandemic exhibit

 

Ballot box

 

These exhibits were made possible with funding provided by Colorado Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security [CARES] Act economic stabilization plan of 2020.

 

If you have suggestions for future exhibits, please contact us at

ECHS@eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcomer Cemetery Tour October 26, 2020

Newcomer Cemetery Tour

Monday, Oct. 26, 12:30 – 2 p.m.

Ellen Love gravestone

Many historic ranches in Eagle County maintained their own small cemeteries. People were buried on the same land that they lived on.

Join the Eagle County Historical Society and Eagle County Open Space for a brief history tour of the Newcomer Cemetery, located on the Brush Creek Ranch and Open Space land south of Eagle. The cemetery is tiny, but the history is significant.

 

 

The tour involves a half-mile hike across a hayfield. Meet at the main parking lot for the Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space.

The event is free, but due to COVID restrictions, participation will be limited and advance registration is required. Face masks will be required.

Sign-up at the following link:
https://forms.gle/jMEBeTyycn34zMSB8

Contact:
Eagle County Open Space: Peter Suneson, 970-401-1054, peter.suneson@eaglecounty.us
Eagle County Historical Society: Kathy Heicher, kheicher@gmail.com

 

 

Henry J.W. (James Wakeham) Hernage

Henry J.W. (James Wakeham) Hernage

Compiled by Janice Tonz

July 2020

Today’s Eagle County residents are familiar with the names Hernage Creek, Hernage Gulch, Hernage Creek Road, and Hernage Ditch.  Henry Hernage left his mark on what is now called Eagle, in spite of living in this area for only three or four years during its earliest pioneer years.

Born into a wealthy family in Nottingham, England in 1851, he was educated in London and Shoreham (near Brighton). Without receiving his degrees, he came to the United States in 1867 at age sixteen, living first in Omaha, then Dunlap Iowa.  At age 20, he made his way to Colorado, living in Boulder County for three years before arriving in Hahn’s Peak (then in Grand County, now Routt County) in 1874.  There he mined and was a US postal carrier.  By 1876, he was mining in Red Cliff.

Hernage Creek Cabin by Janice Tonz

In 1881 or 1882, Henry was the first, or one of the first, settlers to file a claim and start a ranch on Brush Creek, years before the area was called “Eagle.”  When O.W. Daggett settled in Gypsum in May of 1882, Hernage was one of only four settlers with ranches between Red Cliff and Glenwood Springs (the other three being Joseph Brett, Webb Frost, and John Bowman).  Since he stayed in the area for only a few years, little is known of the scope of his operation or success or failure as stockgrower and homesteader.  During that time, he ran cattle, served as a deputy sheriff in Lake and Eagle Counties, and according to O.W. Daggett, operated a roadhouse for travelers .  The Hernage cabins were a rendezvous spot along the route between eastern and western Eagle County.  Travel from Brush Creek to Dotsero was a two day trip. Hernage had one good large room for cooking and eating, and another with a large fireplace and bunks.  In winter, the floor was covered with beds that the travelers carried with them.

Webb Frost and Hernage apparently controlled vast amounts of land in the Brush Creek valley before other settlers arrived. Formal claims were recorded in Red Cliff, then the  county seat.  Several reports state that Hernage and Frost claimed land in a less formal method: they stretched a wire fence between two Cottonwood trees and hung a sign on the wire.  One side read, “I own all the land above this fence.  Webb Frost.” and the other side read, “I own all the land below this fence.  H.J. Hernage.”

Hernage signature at Sweetwater Cave by Janice Tonz

By at least 1884, Hernage was married to Lizzie Hernage.  The England and Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index of 1878 lists the marriage of Henry James Hernage in the first quarter of that year.  However, no name was recorded for his wife.  Henry and his wife visited the Sweetwater Indian Cave (located in Garfield County but accessed through Eagle County) in August of 1884.  To this day, there remains the following inscription on the cave wall:  “H. HERNAGE + WIFE AUG 4 1884.”

Eagle River at Elbow Canyon by Janice Tonz

Tragedy struck on July 29, 1885.  Twenty four year old Lizzie drowned while herding cattle over the Eagle River.  This incident made the news in at least five newspapers around the state.  The Colorado Daily Chieftain (Pueblo) reported:  “TWO PEOPLE DROWNED.  A special to the New from Aspen says:  J.S. Swan reports the drowning in Eagle river, at Elbow canon, yesterday morning, of the partner of Henry Hernage and also the wife of the latter, by a bridge giving way.”  The Silver World (Lake City, Hinsdale County) stated:  “Mrs. Harry Hernage was drowned in the Eagle river, about forty miles below Red Cliff, a few days ago.  While crossing a bridge, the second span gave way, hurling the lady and the mule she was riding into the stream.  Her body was recovered about a mile further down the stream.”

Elbow Canyon 1894 map

Lizzie Hernage is believed to be the first person buried in Sunset View Cemetery in Eagle.  Her headstone was refurbished around 2012.  The name of Henry Hernage’s partner, who perished along with his wife, is unknown.  Another pioneering family, the Nogals, used the logs from the collapsed bridge to build their first cabin.

Lizzie Hernage grave, Sunset View Cemetery

In 1885, shortly after his wife’s death, Hernage, 34, left Eagle County and returned to Routt County, settling in Egeria Park, later known as Yampa.  At that time, the little settlement on Brush Creek was known as “Castle.”  The Hernage homestead claim on Brush Creek was eventually purchased by the White Family.  Thus ended Henry J.W. Hernage’s time in Eagle County.  During the few years this early pioneer spent on Brush Creek, he was a major contributor in laying the foundation for what was to become the town of Eagle.

Henry remarried in Nottingham, England on December 15, 1885 to 20 year old Annie Frances Smith, and brought her back to Yampa.  One source stated he arrived with $1,000, half of which he used to purchase an unimproved homestead, and the remainder to buy stock, packed into four one-horse wagons, for a small store he then started.  He established a ranch, part of which is located on the present Yampa townsite, and the small store (the first store in southern Routt County) grew into the successful Hernage Mercantile Company.  He joined the Yampa Masonic Lodge in 1894, eventually serving as its secretary and worshipful master.  After years of informally lending money to ranchers and businessmen, in 1903 he organized the Stockman’s Bank, serving as president.

Hernage Mercantile, Yampa, Colorado

Twenty years after leaving Eagle County, he was included in a 1905 book entitled “Progressive Men of Western Colorado” in which he was described as “a progressive and public-spirited citizen…one of the potential factors in the development and prosperity of Routt county.”  Only one sentence in that chapter was devoted to his time on Brush Creek.

The Hernage family moved to Santa Monica, California in approximately 1910.  Annie gave birth to 11 children between 1887 and 1910.  Until at least 1913, Henry  continued to serve as president of his Yampa businesses and owned considerable property in Yampa. During his lifetime, tragedy was intertwined with success.   Between 1893 and 1898, three of their first six children died at an early age (two months, four years, and six years).  In 1913,  Henry inherited $75,000 as the sole heir of his great-great-grandfather in London, and following the death of his sister in Africa, also inherited a hotel in London.  One son committed suicide at age twenty six in 1914.

Henry J.W. Hernage, a Colorado pioneer who played an important role in the development of both Eagle and Yampa, died at age seventy-one in 1923.  He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica, California.

 

Sources:

Ancestry.com

Colorado historic Newspapers Collection

Progressive Men of Western Colorado, 1905

Findagrave.com

Brush Creek Memories.  Brown, Sharon; and Dana Dunbar Kamphausen.  Eagle, CO:  Manuscript, ECHS Archives, Eagle public Library, 1980.

 

Abrams Family: Pioneer Adventure Tainted with Violence

These days most down-valley locals associate the name “Abrams” with a street in the outer reaches of the Eagle Ranch subdivision, or a challenging mountain bike trail in the adjacent open space.

In reality, the Abrams family was among the first homesteaders in the lower Eagle Valley. As a group, they exhibited pioneer pluck, daring and ingenuity, and a dark streak of violence. More than once, the deaths of family members were attributed to what the newspapers of the day described as “unnatural causes.” Indeed.

David Abrams

David A. Abrams, the family patriarch, was born to Irish immigrant parents in Philadelphia in about 1847. During the Civil War, he joined the Pennsylvania infantry and distinguished himself with remarkable bravery and fearlessness in battle. As the ranking captain, he led recalcitrant troops into fire in the Battle of Petersburg,  Va., a Union victory that cut off a major supply hub for the Confederates and ultimately led to the Rebel surrender.

After the war, Abrams became a Philadelphia police detective with a reputation for effective work. In 1878, the silver mining boom drew David, his wife Jennifer, and their youngest children (there would eventually be seven Abrams children) to Leadville, Colo. Abrams mined, then was quickly hired by the local police force. His police work sent him to the Taylor Hill mining district on Tennessee Pass to quell a violent mining claim dispute that killed several men. Abrams, exhibiting considerable nerve, secured and held possession of the mines until the conflict could be resolved in court.

Abrams was prominent in Leadville, and knowledgeable about mining affairs. He and his sons had mining in their blood.

Members of the Abrams family pose at a large log cabin in about 1917. From left are Albert Abrams, Mae Abrams Sheehan, Jennie Abrams, Nellie Sheehan, Loyal Abrams, and Jack Sheehan.

In 1883, Abrams became a rancher, leaving Leadville for a 360 acre homestead on Brush Creek, a tributary to the Eagle River. (The Abrams land included what is now the heart of the Eagle Ranch golf course, and the denser Village Homes housing development.) He and a Leadville physician, Dr. Eyer, partnered on the ranch. Abrams provided the land and the labor, Eyer paid for the cattle and farming equipment. The Abrams family built a cabin about five miles up Abrams Creek, where they also dabbled in copper mining. When the mine proved non-productive, they built another, more comfortable home down at the mouth of Abrams Creek in the Brush Creek Valley. The Abrams sons sometimes stayed at a third cabin, located midway between the two homes. Newspapers described the Brush Creek property as a “magnificent ranch.”

From the start, there were problems with the neighboring land owner, David Sutton, who also claimed a strip of the same valuable ranchland. Sutton succeeded in evicting the Abrams family from their comfortable cabin in the dead of winter, sending them scrambling for a new home. The several-year land dispute went all the way to the Secretary of the Interior. Ongoing rulings favored the Abrams family, according to newspaper reports, but Sutton kept appealing. The hostility between the neighbors was constant.

An unidentified man works the field with a Mormon Derrick, used for stacking hay, in the background. The gyp hills of the Brush Creek valley are in the distance.

David Abram’s personal land battle ended abruptly with his unexpected death in September, 1886. The Leadville Herald Democrat newspaper attribute Abram’s death to “unnatural causes,” related to a serious knife wound to his spine suffered a year earlier. David Abrams had literally been stabbed in the back.

The origin of that knife wound will forever remain a mystery. No reports of the original incident can be found in the newspapers of the time; yet the stabbing seemed to be common knowledge. The Abrams family and friends would not talk about it.

“Those who are familiar with that tragic affair declare it to have been an accident and preferred to have no reference made to it,” noted the Leadville Herald Democrat on Sept. 18, 1886.

The infected knife wound rendered Abrams increasingly feeble over the following year, eventually causing his death at the age 45. Where David Abrams is buried is unclear.

William J. Abrams

  A year after David Abrams’ death, the Abrams-Sutton land dispute reached the boiling point. On Nov. 30, 1887, David’s oldest son, William J. (Bill) Abrams, 21, shot and killed Sutton.

William Abrams

The incident started a couple of days previously when Abrams turned several of his horses out on the disputed strip of land, which was fenced. Sutton, a bachelor rancher, gathered the horses and secured them in his barn, refusing to give them back until the courts issued a final ruling on the disputed property. Sutton demanded legal documents showing proof of the land possession and insisted that Abrams pay for the damages.

A violent confrontation ensued, witnessed by the neighboring Hockett brothers and two ranch hands.

Newspaper accounts of the incident conflict. Sutton and Abrams definitely argued. According to one account, Sutton advanced toward young Abrams with a sledge hammer. A different report suggests that Abrams may have been the aggressor, threatening to kill Sutton if he touched the horses. Sutton kept advancing toward Abrams, who drew his revolver and fired twice, hitting Sutton in the stomach and then in the left eye.

Bill Abrams immediately went to a neighbor’s house and turned himself over to the authorities. Fearing mob violence, Constable Ed Thompson avoided taking his prisoner to the Eagle train depot for transport to the county jail at Red Cliff. Instead, the constable and the suspect walked up the valley to the next rail stop.

Sutton was a prominent player in early Eagle County. He had recently been elected Eagle County commissioner, but had not yet taken office. His remains were taken to Denver where he was buried in Riverview Cemetery in the White family plot (the Whites also homesteaded on Brush Creek, and Sutton was Sarah White’s cousin as well as the White ranch manager).

In June 1888, a grand jury in Leadville indicted Bill Abrams for first degree murder. He awaited trial in the Leadville jail, where a stream of friends visited him, offering support. The local newspapers sympathized with Abrams, describing him as a “quiet, inoffensive-looking young man, with flaxen hair and a small moustache of the same color, with nothing about him to indicate the desperado.” The newspaper flatly states that the Sutton killing was self-defense.

Newspapers did not report the result of Abrams trial, but the course of his life afterwards suggests that he was acquitted. A marriage in 1895 ended in divorce less than two years later.

He volunteered for the Spanish-American War in 1898 achieving the rank of lieutenant during that 10-month conflict. Shortly afterwards, he was reported to be living in Crestone, Co., a small mining camp in the San Luis Valley.  By 1901 he was in Defiance (now Glenwood Springs), mining with his brothers.

Bill Abrams was not destined for a happy life.

On Jan. 1, 1911 Abrams was blinded in a dynamite mishap inside a lead mine in the cliffs above Shoshone in Glenwood Canyon. Five months later, he was declared insane and sentenced to a stay at the asylum in Pueblo, Doctors blamed the loss of eyesight and damage to his brain.

By 1912, Abrams was out of the asylum, and out on the streets of Denver, selling newspapers and flowers from a stand outside the Montview Hotel. He made headlines in August of 1912 when he wrote a letter to the warden of the state penitentiary, requesting that that the eyes of a condemned murderer be harvested immediately after the fellow’s hanging. Abrams believed he had a doctor who could transplant the eyes and restore his vision.

I’d go through hell to regain my sight, and no operation, however painful, would deter me from taking the one chance I have had to be able to see,” Abrams told the newspapers.

Abrams’ sight was never restored. Blindness led to his death in Denver in September, 1920. He became disoriented, and stepped into an open hotel elevator shaft, apparently mistaking it for a door. He fell three stories to his death. Bill Abrams is buried in a family plot at Rosebud Cemetery in Glenwood Springs.

The Abrams rumors

Jennie Abrams, David’s widow, married William J. Paye, a road overseer, in 1899. They continued to ranch the Brush Creek land, along with the younger Abrams children. In April 1908 she was granted a divorce, with the newspapers noting that her husband was a fugitive from justice and did not contest the lawsuit.

Unidentified children, presumably Abrams family members, at a small cabin.

In 1924, William Mayer, who had been ranching in the valley for about 25 years, purchased the Abrams property. In his memoir, William’s son Chet Mayer raised some interesting stories about the Abrams family.

Mayer could remember a double grave up Abrams Creek, well-marked with a board fence around it. The story he heard as a child was that the stepfather (possibly Paye) and one of the Abram’s sons got into a fight while cutting timber. Both raised axes and attacked each other. One reportedly died from a split skull, and the other bled to death from a severe wound in the neck and shoulder.

However, another Eagle pioneer, Ernie Nogal, offered a different version of the story, saying an Abrams son came upon his stepfather beating his mother, and buried an axe in the man’s back. The son died a few weeks later while swimming … or, another version of the story suggests he was poisoned.

Mayer also repeats a rumor that perhaps Bill Abrams was a hired gun, whom local ranchers used to take care of cattle rustlers, and may have been the person who murdered the outlaw Charlie Johnson in 1901.

None of those rumors can be verified by archive research, and the stories are likely a mix of miss-remembered history and flat-out rumors. If there are twin graves up Abrams Creek, nobody has seen them in decades.

Jennie Abrams in field

Jennie Abrams outlived five of her seven children. She spent her life on that Brush Creek homestead, dying in 1924 at the age of 78. She is buried alongside several of her children  in the family plot at Rosebud Cemetery in Glenwood Springs.

Photos are from the Abrams family album and are shared courtesy of the Eagle County Historical Society and Eagle Valley Library District.

Compiled by Kathy Heicher

May 30, 2020

 

 

 

Who was Hume White…and why did he need an opera hat?

Sometimes local history arrives unexpectedly. In the case of Hume Stanley White, it was the donation of a collapsible opera hat that first piqued the Eagle County Historical Society’s interest in this Eagle County pioneer. When collapsed, the hat, which has an internal spring system, looks like a flattened black silk pancake. Pop it up, and it’s a shiny top hat, suitable for a society event. Couple that hat with a box full of yellowed papers that came from Hume White’s roll top desk, add in the research time made available courtesy of the spring of 2020 corona virus epidemic, and this pioneer story comes into focus.

George White [Courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  Hume Stanley White (the middle name comes from a prominent mining family in Idaho Springs), born in 1882, was the youngest son of George G. and Sarah Morton White. The Whites were adventurous pioneers. Originally from Kentucky, George served in the Confederate Army, that including a six-week stay in a Union prison. After the war, he pursued higher education with the goal of becoming a lawyer. He established both a large farm and a law practice in Missouri and married Sarah Anne Morton in 1867.

Sarah Anne Morton White [courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  Intrigued by tales of the mining  boom out west, the young couple and their children left their comfortable brick home in Missouri and headed to Colorado.

George quickly established a successful legal practice. In 1876, he helped write the Colorado Constitution. Eventually, his adventurous nature drew the White family to the bustling Leadville mining camp, where he served as a judge. In 1891, the Whites went exploring down the Eagle River, and found the country along Brush Creek (south of Eagle) promising enough to prompt them to file several homestead claims. Those homesteads encompassed 480 acres including what is now the heart of the Eagle Ranch subdivision, and rural properties farther up the creek.

Barn on Sarah White Ranch [courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  Hume was the youngest of the four White children. Born in 1882, he likely never really knew his father, who died unexpectedly in Leadville in 1884, at the age of 38.

The widow Sarah proved her strength and independence by establishing a cattle ranch on the Brush Creek property, where she raised her children. Determined to provide her children with a high quality education, Sarah’s success at the ranch, along with the money left by her husband, enabled her to send her children to boarding schools. The boys, Ben and Hume, completed their elementary education at Notre Dame. Hume spent his higher education years at William Jewel Academy College in Missouri, completing college in 1905, the same year that his mother died after a several-month illness.

Sarah White and Family [courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  The White brothers took over their mother’s ranching operation. Ben was particularly prominent in Eagle County’s agricultural industry. Hume was drawn to Denver, where for several years he worked as a newspaper reporter, including a stint at the Denver Republican working alongside the famous writer, Damon Runyon. Hume was not destined for a newspaper career. After he was “fired for his own good,” as he later recalled, he obtained a law degree from the University of Denver in 1911.

Hume began his law practice in Denver, working in the office of his father’s former law partner. In 1913, Hume married Genevieve Fisher Chilson. Several perfectly preserved engraved wedding announcements were among the papers in Hume’s rolltop desk.

From 1916 until 1920, he worked as a Deputy District Attorney, prosecuting criminals in the City and County of Denver.

But he always had strong ties to Eagle County, where he enjoyed the ranching, the hunting and fishing. When silver was discovered at Horse Mountain on Brush Creek in 1913, Hume was one of the investors in silver mines.

Hume White House, Eagle [Courtesy ECHS and EVLD]

  In 1920, Hume, Genevieve and their son George G. White II moved to Eagle to be nearer the ranch operation (Hume leased out his portion of the ranch.) He established a law practice in Eagle, and quickly became drawn into the county seat fight that had roiled Red Cliff and Eagle for nearly 20 years and through numerous court battles. The White brothers were prominent players in the fight. In 1920, Ben chaired the committee fighting to move the county seat down valley; and Hume was both a committee member and legal advisor. The papers from his desk include a flyer detailing a dozen arguments promoting Eagle as the better location for the county seat. Eagle finally won that battle in 1921.

Like his father, Hume was a skillful lawyer. The family memoirs claim he never lost a case. He was also a politically savvy Democrat. He represented Eagle County in the State Legislature from 1922-1924, a job that probably required the occasional use of a formal opera hat. His work included stints as the Eagle town attorney, Eagle County attorney, and a term as a District Court judge.

Hume was the vice-president of the First National Bank of Eagle County. He served on the Colorado River Water Conservation Board for 23 years, including the time during the late 1940s and early 1950s when the controversial Fryingpan-Arkansas water diversion project (resulting eventually in the construction of Ruedi  Reservoir) was taking shape. Hume White was well known in Democratic Party circles throughout the state; and in 1936 was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention.

Hume Stanley White [courtesy ECHS and EVLD]

Throughout his life, he was an approachable, integral part of the Eagle County community. In addition to his high-profile legal work, local newspaper columns report White’s adventures ranging from making a local splash by driving a large Thomas Flyer touring car into town in 1920 to his adventures fishing at Deep Creek, exploring Fulford Cave, and moving cattle to market throughout the decades. Hume was apparently a good sport. In 1945, he was one of numerous Eagle County competitors participating in a men-only “War Loan Beauty Contest,” a fund-raising event where people voted by making donations in the name of specific contestants. The newspaper suggested that Hume was attempting to capture votes by asking the local beauty shop to design a new hairdo for him. At that time, Hume White was quite bald.

Genevieve White died in 1951. Hume White retired from his law practice but remained prominent in county affairs. He died 1968. The opera hat and the desk drawer of papers are small artifacts of the accomplishments of a man who played a big role in Eagle County.

[courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

Complied by Kathy Heicher

Eagle County Historical Society

April 25, 2020