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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