Tag Archive for: Eagle Colorado

Sarah Morton White Kempf: A Woman Pioneer

Sarah Morton White Kempf: A Woman Pioneer, 1847-1905

Compiled by Janice Tonz

 

One of Eagle County’s earliest and most successful pioneers, ranch owners, managers, and businesspersons was a woman.

Sarah Morton White Kempf

Sarah Morton White Kempf spent her first twenty two years in Platte County, Missouri.  Born in 1847, she lived a settled, luxurious life on her parents’ farm, and then in Platte City with her husband and first child.  She began the pioneer life in 1869, when she and her husband left Missouri for the new Territory of Colorado, traveling by rail and stagecoach.  They settled in Golden, where their second child was born.  By 1877, they moved further west to Georgetown, and after the birth of their third child, they relocated to Leadville in 1879.  Pregnant with her fourth child, Sarah and her three children temporarily moved to Denver in 1882 to escape the severe Leadville winter, her husband visiting the family when he was in Denver on business.

In the early 1880’s, after a discussion of their future, the security of their family, and how Sarah would provide for her children should something happen to her husband, they journeyed from Leadville to Brush Creek, most likely on horseback, where each filed homestead claims on one hundred sixty acres.  At the time, only two other families were living in that area.  A bachelor cousin of Sarah’s was asked to come to Colorado and file on an adjoining 160 acres, which they purchased after the requirements of the homestead law were met.  This gave them 480 acres for the start of a ranch, located on what is now the Eagle Ranch subdivision.  A cabin was constructed on each of the claims, and the claims were each fenced in.  Sarah’s cousin remained on the ranch, while Sarah and her family continued to live in Leadville.  The cousin grew hay and grain for the horses and some produce for his own consumption.

Sarah White and Family

Then, in January of 1884, Sarah, 37, became a widow, with four children ranging in age from two to 16.  Knowing that the ranch must become a profitable business in order to support her and the children, she entered into the cattle business by purchasing a sizable herd of Texas longhorn cattle.  By the time her cousin was murdered in 1887 by a neighbor over a land dispute, she moved from Leadville into one of the three cabins.  Concerned with educating four children in a remote location, she sent her oldest daughter to a convent in Montreal, Canada to be educated by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, and the other three children to Notre Dame.

Barn on the Sarah White ranch

Until the railroad reached Eagle in October 1887, she arranged to have the cattle driven 60 miles to the nearest railroad point.  Workers, including miners, prospectors, cowboys, and ex-convicts, were hired to do the hard and heavy work on the ranch.  Although she carried a pistol and slept with it under her pillow, she never had to use it.  Eventually she married the man (19 years younger than her) who had been the ranch foreman.

She purchased another ranch on Brush Creek, 10 miles away from the original ranch, on Salt Creek.  Her SW – branded cattle, considered to be one of the finest cattle herds in western Colorado, had improved from Texas Longhorns to Shorthorns, grazed on the open range, and drank from natural freshwater springs, and a creek.   By 1903, the Glenwood Post referred to her as “the owner and complete manager of one of the largest and best ranches in this country” and added “as a businesswoman she stands a peer and puts most of the sterner sex to shame.”

Still living in the cabin built around 1882, her financial status now allowed her to build a new home and workable out-buildings.  A nine room house with two baths, a parlor, living room, fireplaces and a furnace was completed in 1905.  Unfortunately, Sarah died in October 1905, at the age of fifty eight.  She was buried in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery, next to her first husband.

Sarah White gravestone

Undoubtedly, Sarah also contributed to the successes of her first husband, George Griffith White and her sons Benjamin Morton White and Hume Stanley White.  To learn more about these men in Sarah’s life, check out family memoirs and photos in the digital archives at www.evld.org, and the April 2020 blog on Hume White at www.eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com/hindsight.com.

 

Sources:

Ancestry.com

Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection

Findagrave.com

Family memoirs and photos in digital archives of www.evld.org

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 24, 2019 Beer and History at the Bonfire

Beer and whiskey are just as much a part of Eagle County’s history as mining, ranching, and skiing. The Eagle County Historical Society will present a special program about the county’s historical drinking habits at Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 24, in celebration of Colorado Craft Beer Week. Stop in for a brew and a bit of local history. (Early Gypsum saloon photo courtesy of Eagle County Historical Society and Eagle Valley Library District)

March 20, 2019 The History of Eagle County + Walking Tour of Historic Eagle

 

Special offer for members only

The History of Eagle County + Walking Tour of Historic Eagle

Wednesday, March 20  9 a.m.

Eagle County Administration Building in Eagle, Garden-level classroom

Local historian Kathy Heicher will present a slide show and talk that will reveal Eagle County history stretching from the Ute occupation in the early 1800s to the development of the county’s ski resort economy in the 1960s. The lecture will be followed by a walking tour of historic downtown Eagle.

To reserve a spot in the class, RSVP to: ECHS@eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com by March 19. Cost of the class is $10 for ECHS members.

*** Note: Local realtors seeking “Vail Pro” education credit for the class must register through the Vail Board of Realtors (http://www.vbr.net).

Disaster and Recovery

Water and archives are a historian’s worst nightmare. A construction mishap at the Eagle Public Library on Jan. 10 caused water to flood into the basement archive storage room. The Eagle County Historical Society thanks Library Archivist Matthew Mickelson (pictured) and his fellow librarians for quickly pulling artifacts to safety. Thanks also to the Greater Eagle Fire Department for their quick and orderly response. Special thanks to Steammaster’s Jeff Sandoval and his experienced crew who immediately recognized the value of the historic documents and got the recovery process started. Experts have now transported the small part of our collection affected by the water to Denver for restoration. The ECHS looks forward to the return of our irreplaceable artifacts. Hurray for local history!

ECHS Annual Meeting!

The annual meeting and election of officers for the Eagle County Historical Society will take place Monday, Jan 7 at 8:15 a.m. at the Eagle Town Hall. What a good opportunity to come and see what the ECHS has been doing.
Please note that we are accepting nominations for the following positions:
Vice President
Finance director
Membership director
Events director
If you would like to get involved as a board member, please contact us:

Colorado Gives Day — December 4, 2018

Give where you live: Support the Eagle County Historical Society on Dec. 4

  It takes more than beautiful scenery and great skiing to build a healthy community. The Eagle County Historical Society is among dozens of non-profit organizations in Eagle County that work hard every day providing quality-of-life services for locals and visitors. Programs include educational and health services, housing assistance and cultural enrichment.

   Eagle County Gives, a coalition of 50 local and worthy non-profits, will once again participate in Colorado Gives Day on Tuesday, Dec. 4. This annual event simplifies philanthropic giving by providing a convenient on-line option for supporting local non-profits with a single website visit.

  Last year, the one-day event raised nearly $1 million for local organizations. Donors have the option of making contributions on the official Gives day, or scheduling donations in advance.

  Watch for posters, news articles, and sign -waiving volunteers in the roundabouts.  Take this opportunity to support your local community. Present and future generations will thank you.

  More information at eaglecogives.org.

 

Hiking through History: The McCoy fossil beds

The history lessons spanned thousands of years at our McCoy Fossil Beds “Hiking through History” outing with Walking Mountain Science Center. Geologist and guest teacher Neil Suneson led the fossil hike, which turned up hundreds of fossils, proof of the era when Eagle County was a warm shallow sea. The group then learned some of McCoy’s more recent history with a walk through the cemetery and a visit to John Comer’s historic waterwheel. What a great way to end the season … and we are already working on ideas for next year’s history hikes.

Stem fossil

Shark teeth

Waterwheel, photo by John Comer

In the wash

handful of fossils

Fossil bed

 

Hiking through History: The McCoy fossil beds September 25

Join the Eagle County Historical Society and Walking Mountain Science Center on Tuesday September 25 [8am to 3pm] for some time travel to an era when Eagle County was a warm, shallow sea. McCoy’s high desert ranching community is a treasure vault of fossils, including shark teeth and brachiopods. The tour will also include a visit to John Comer’s waterwheel, which dates back to 1923 when local ranchers devised an ingenious method of ensuring water from the Colorado river could flow into irrigation ditches. Put on your hiking boots and join us for a fascinating end-of-the-season hike.

Reserve a spot at https://www.walkingmountains.org/project/hiking-through-history-with-echs/

ECHS members get a 50 percent discount. Use the code ECHS at checkout.

Comer Waterwheel, photo by Raymond Bleesz

 

Honky-Tonk Night at the Museum September 7

We had some fun at “Honky-Tonk Night at the museum. Piano expert Jere DeBacker explained the workings of a player piano. Special thanks to 10th Mountain Distillery for providing a sampling of their brews. And lots of people learned they can play the piano (with their feet).