Tag Archive for: Eagle County Colorado

Holy Cross Painting by Roy Kerswill

Montana goose hunt yields a historical treasure for the Eagle County Historical Society

By Kathy Heicher

 

A couple of months ago, my husband and our exuberant two-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever headed to Montana for a goose hunt with our oldest son, grandson, and their two dogs. The cat and I stayed home in our cozy house in Eagle, Colorado.

Typically, these annual bird hunts yield lots of fun for men, boys, and dogs, and a half-dozen zip-lock freezer bags full of goose meat which (in theory) is edible.

This year’s hunt yield was different. While the hunt was underway, I received a phone call from John Sullivan, a retired community newspaper editor in Livingston, Montana who wanted to donate an artifact to the Eagle County Historical Society. He described a large oil painting of a miner and his burro trekking toward the Mount of the Holy Cross, Eagle County’s iconic landmark. The artist was Roy Kerswill. “Google him,” urged Sullivan, granting me a couple of days to figure out if the painting belonged in the ECHS archives.

Roy Kerswill

I did so and discovered that the late Kerswill was an artist of considerable reputation whose work chronicled the West and its people. Kerswill was an Englishman who grew fascinated with the American West after a post-World War II canoe trip along the Lewis and Clark route. The adventurous Kerswill worked as a river guide, a cowboy, and a hod carrier. But his passion was art.

“I paint with the same need as I eat. I paint because it is an adventure into something strange and beautiful,” he once said.

Favoring bold colors, Kerswill painted the history of the West with images of covered wagons, cowboys, pioneers, Native Americans, wildlife, and soaring mountains. He was particularly known for painting the Teton mountain range in Wyoming, where he lived for many years.

Kerswill also spent some time in Denver, where he sometimes produced artwork for the Denver Post newspaper. He gifted the Mount of the Holy Cross painting to Post Editor Bill Hornby, who happened to be John Sullivan’s stepfather. Sullivan inherited the painting and hauled it to Montana where it hung in his newspaper office for decades.

I assured Sullivan that the ECHS wanted the painting. Like many retirees, he was downsizing his possessions. He believed the painting belonged in Colorado. An internet search led him to the Eagle County Historical Society.

But there was a caveat: He understandably did not want to deal with the challenge of wrapping and shipping the valuable artwork to Colorado.

Aha! The stars were aligned. For once, one of my husband’s wild goose chases was useful to me. I advised Sullivan that I happened to know a truckload of bird hunters and hunting dogs who would be passing through Livingston, Mt. within a couple of days, then put the men in touch with one another. Sullivan packaged the painting in cardboard and the returning hunters packed it in their truck amid the dogs, shotguns, and dead geese.

Once they returned to Eagle, we eased the painting out of its box, revealing a bold image that links Eagle County’s famous landmark with its mining history. The Kerswill painting is truly a treasure.

“It belongs in Eagle County, “ said the gracious Sullivan.

While the ECHS historical museum is closed for the winter, the painting is temporarily hanging just behind the checkout desk at the Eagle Public Library.  A small exhibit detailing the history of the Mount of the Holy Cross and the Holy Cross City mining camp is displayed upstairs in the library’s History Department. And look around the upstairs walls for more Mount of the Holy Cross memorabilia.

Please stop in, take a look, and enjoy this unexpected treasure. And email the ECHS if you have a good recipe for Canada goose.

 

(Editor’s note: Kathy Heicher is the president of the Eagle County Historical Society and the award-winning author of four local history books.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Day Vail: History of Avon

History of Avon

Recently we had the pleasure of talking with @CeciZak, host of #GoodDayVail (TV8, our local television channel) about the history of Avon Colorado and the impact the Nottingham family had on this amazing town! We had fun reminiscing about the events leading to the incorporation of the town, community “drama” and the importance  of unity. Ceci would appreciate any feedback. Link to episode:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHVwNOoFxZE

Feedback can be directed to Ceci at:  [email protected]

Holy Cross City: The gold camp built on hope

Holy Cross City: The gold camp built on hope, by Kathy Heicher

(Note: This story first appeared in the Winter 2023 edition of Vail Valley Magazine.)

The first hint that there was gold embedded in the geology of the Eagle River Valley appeared in 1874  via scribbled notes in explorer Ferdinand Hayden’s famed survey. In that document, geologists noted that men fishing the tributaries coming into the Eagle River from the south (Homestake Creek, Cross Creek, Beaver Creek, and Lake Creek) were finding placer gold in the gravel. That news prompted the quiet filing of a few mining claims.

However, on July 8, 1880, the Leadville Herald-Democrat newspaper reported that an experienced prospector, J.W. Lynch, had arrived in town with a 60 pound lump of ore to be processed. Lynch revealed his discovery of a gold-bearing quartz vein above timberline in the wild country southeast of the famous Mount of the Holy Cross.

The newspaper called for development of a new camp and mining district. Prospectors heeded that advice. Five weeks later, scores of miners had flocked to the area, filing enough claims to warrant the formation of the Holy Cross Mining District. The district (a governing entity) encompassed the headwaters of Cross Creek and Homestake Creek and about 100 square miles of the wild country in between.

Located at an elevation of 11,335 feet, Holy Cross City was a gold mining camp that was expected to boom when it first developed in 1880. However, low quality ore, expensive processing, and brutal winters turned the camp into a ghost town by 1884.

Mining camps populated by adventurous miners sprang up throughout the mountainous district. Among the most prominent of those camps was Holy Cross City. Located at an elevation of  11,335 foot in a meadow on the east slope of French Mountain, this headline-generating yet short-lived mining camp was the product of unfettered human optimism and the harsh reality of a shallow ore vein.

Creating the camp

Holy Cross City’s first year, 1881, was a time of development and splashy headlines. Newspapers described country “seamed with inexhaustible fissure veins of gold ore.” Even the names of the mining claims were infused with optimism: Grand Trunk, Solid Muldoon, Shamrock, Treasure Vault, Hunky Dory, and the Eureka.

Miners stayed in a boarding house or in private cabins. Most of the mining took place in the summer, although a small crew of 24 men stayed for the winter.

In a relatively short amount of time, newspapers reported there were 25 buildings in the camp including  a boarding house, post office, two general stores, assay office, blacksmith shop, a drug store, and several saloons. Two rows of residential cabins faced each other on either side of a short “street.” By 1882, the Colorado Business Directory reported a population of 200 people in Holy Cross City. There was talk of forming a school district. A sister mining camp, Gold Park, located four miles down the road claimed 400 residents. A flume with a cast-iron bottom connected the two camps. In theory, water in the flume would carry smashed ore from Holy Cross City to Gold Park for processing. However, there were issues with the grade of the flume, and the ore chunks tended to pile up unless a team of miners kept things moving.

Initially the ores extracted from the district were promising, with assay results convincing speculators that the “Mother Lode” could be located by just digging a little deeper. The Gold Park Mining and Milling Company was formed in 1881 and was incorporated with $500,000 in capital stock. Professional engineers and mine managers were recruited. The company gained control of 23 of the mining claims on French Mountain and put a large crew of miners to work.

 

“There are a great number of good properties in all parts of the district that would pay well if properly worked … we expect to see lively times among the gold mines of the Holy Cross District.”

Rocky Mountain News

June 9, 1882

During the initial mining boom, 400 men were employed in the mines at Holy Cross City.Gold was the ore that prompted the development of the mining camp in 1880, however, a “rich silver vein” was reported at Holy Cross in 1882.

But mine speculators often tend to be captured by the promise of riches, while ignoring reality. The unfortunate truth about most of the Holy Cross Mining District was that while the upper few feet of the ore veins were promising, the quality of the gold deteriorated quickly at deeper levels. Ore in the upper two feet of the vein assayed out at $100 per ton. But at the next lower level, the gold was mixed with pyrite, requiring more complex processing. The value dropped to $40 feet per ton. Two feet lower, the ore’s value was a mere $9 per ton. This scenario proved typical of the veins throughout the district.

One miner, apparently well aware of the peculiar nature of the Holy Cross district ore veins, dug several shallow holes along his claim. Of course, the upper level ore yielded assay results attractive enough to prompt a purchase offer of $50,000 from an Eastern capitalist. The investor paid half of the money up front, intending to pay the rest upon development. The seller took the initial $25,000 and disappeared … and is credited with being the only man to make a clear profit from the mines of the Holy Cross District.

 

Rough and rowdy

Visitors could find a room and meals at the Timberline Hotel. The camp also boasted a post office, general merchandise store, assay office, and a justice of the peace. The trip from Red Cliff to Holy Cross City involved traveling over 12 miles of rough road and could involve several days during the winter.

Mining camps, dominated by men with plentiful saloons tended to be rowdy and sometimes violent. A double murder at Holy Cross City made headlines in the Leadville papers on Dec. 10, 1881.

Economic issues were likely the start of tensions between the working miners and  the Gold Park mines superintendent, Mr. Turney, and mine foreman Harry Weston. Disgruntled miners made threats against the two men, prompting Turney to abruptly discharge 150 men. Many men left the camp immediately, but several heavily armed and angry ex-employees remained in the camp and threatened vengeance. In response, the mine operators organized a “vigilance committee” of 40 armed men to protect the mines.

One angry miner identified only as “Bagley,” shot and killed Weston, fired another shot at Turney, then fled to his cabin, pursued by the vigilantes who fired shots into the building. Bagley was fatally wounded. The coroner ruled his death a suicide.

That same day, somebody sent one of the laid-off miners, Jack White, a notice to leave the camp immediately. The angry White procured three revolvers, then proceeded to walk down Holy Cross City’s only street with a cocked gun in each hand and the third revolver in his belt, cursing and demanding to know exactly who had sent the notice.

The armed members of the vigilance committee lined either side of the street, prepared to shoot White down. Undeterred, White remained in the town two or three hours, then departed for Leadville.

The camp was in an uproar. The frightened night foreman of the mine, Bill Bates, locked himself in his cabin and refused to come out. Turney continued to order the laid-off miners to leave town. The newspaper rather gleefully predicted that “the prospect is excellent that one or two more killings will crimson the annals of that camp within the next week.”

Apparently, by 1883, things had settled down notably in the Holy Cross Camp. On April 18, 1883, the Rocky Mountain News reported, “The morals of the place are above the average of mining camps since the output of the mines has never been enough to attract the vicious elements which usually invade thrifty camps.”

 

The lady miner

Perhaps the most unusual miner to work the Holy Cross District was Mrs. Julia Edith Dunn, the daughter of an old and distinguished family from the East. Well educated and reared in luxury, Dunn excelled in music and painting. Newspaper reports suggest that a combination of health issues and a failed marriage prompted her to head west with her children. Deeply religious, she chose Holy Cross City as her destination. There she found a cabin and made enough money teaching music and painting lessons to file several mining claims. She hired a couple of miners and worked alongside them to develop the claims.

Two of the claims yielded gold and silver. When Dunn overheard her hired hands plotting to steal the nuggets, she procured a pistol, guarded the ore throughout the night, and sent the men packing to Red Cliff. Dunn sold her claims for a tidy profit, then invested that money in lodes closer to Red Cliff and Leadville. One of her mines was predicted to yield a minimum profit of $500,000. In a camp dominated by rough men, she was notable.

 

“Any mining man in the west might well be proud of what this woman has accomplished and considering he almost insurmountable difficulties she has had to overcome , the years of toil and struggle in the mountains, her achievements deserve to rank among the greatest in the state.”

Herald Democrat

 Jan. 1, 1904.

 

From boom camp to ghost town

A freight wagon driver steers a wagon full of ore to the crusher at Holy City. The wagon and horses are traveling on a wooden driveway. The processing mills at Holy Cross City and Gold Park serviced many mining claims in the Holy Cross District. The Treasure Vault, Little Mollie, and Pelican mines were among the most productive mines.

Although a few of the Holy Cross mines were briefly profitable, the area was never destined for great mining success. Mine profit depended upon the ability to process the mines at the site (rather than hauling wagonloads of heavy ore great distances). Unfortunately, most of the ore in the district was laced with pyrite, which could not be separated from the gold by any simple process.

The remoteness of Holy Cross City made accessibility difficult. A 12-mile road connected the camp to Red Cliff. However, in winter the snow depths were daunting. An attempt to move a woman and her two children from Red Cliff to Holy Cross City in February involved three days of precarious travel, eight horses, two sleds, and 10 men to help break a trail through the snow.

Although the mines bustled in the summer, in the winter only small crews attempted to stay in the camp. The cold weather and isolation took a toll.

 

“Fred went down to Gold Park today after our washing [laundry]. He sent it to Red Cliff in about the middle of January. The weather has been so rough that we could not get it before. I wish I was through with this blasted country.”

Letter from an unnamed miner

March 7, 1885

Holy Cross City

 

By 1883, the Gold Park Mining Company acknowledged that the quality of ore was not sufficient to justify further investment in the area. The company pulled out, as did most of the miners.  In 1884, the director of the Denver Mint reported that only $6,400 of ore had been produced by the entire district. By the end of that year, Holy Cross City was a ghost town.

The mining company made a couple of attempts to revive the mines, and the local newspapers optimistically predicted that the area would boom again. However, the issues of ore quality, impassible roads, and high elevation living prevailed.

The Leadville Daily Chronicle reported on Aug. 5, 1890, that the camps of old Park and Holy Cross City were practically deserted.

 

“… were it not for a few hearty prospectors and miners who are now working among the mountains, the wolves and mountain lions would stalk the silent streets, monarchs of all they survey. “

Leadville Daily Chronicle

Aug. 5, 1890

 

  Yet, that same newspaper, noting that the mining company had abandoned over $200,000 in machinery at the site, predicted that men would soon figure out how to effectively process the ore, and that the Holy Cross District would once again boom. Although a few optimistic miners continued to explore the country, there was no second boom.

  These days, Holy Cross City is accessible by hiking or very skilled four-wheel vehicle driving. The remains of several buildings are scattered through the high country meadow. It remains a wild and beautiful country, with a history that captures the imagination.

Perhaps the true story of the Holy Cross District was best captured by a man with the initials “J.M.K.” who wrote a letter to the Herald Democrat newspaper on June 22, 1902, following a fishing trip in the Holy Cross District:

 

The whole of the ground on each side of the creek will pan gold, from Red Cliff to Gold Park … several claims were worked, but none were ever found from which even wages were taken out. The fishing, however, on the creek was far better than the placer mining.”

 

END

 

(Editor’s note: Kathy Heicher is the president of the Eagle County Historical Society and the award-winning author of four local history books. She “mined” the archives of the ECHS, Eagle Valley Library District, History Colorado, and Denver Public Library in researching this story.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night at the Museum August 25, 2022

Night at the Museum

Celebrating Eagle County’s Past, Present, and Future!

Rain clouds did not deter the crowd at our recent “Night at the Museum” event. Over 120 people turned out to enjoy the food, browse the exhibit, and answer some history trivia questions. An historic good time was had by all. (Photos courtesy of Wendy Griffith)

 

Save the Date: Night at the Museum August 25, 2022

Night at the Museum

Celebrating Eagle County’s Past, Present, and Future!

5-p.m. – 8 p.m.

 

The Eagle County Historical Museum has a new roof, new paint, and new exhibits. We’re ready to celebrate!

Join us for an evening of celebrating local history, including food and drink. Meet some long-time residents, make some new friends, and revel in Eagle County’s colorful history. Give our “History Trivia Wheel” a spin – answer a question, win a prize.

Live music

 Free admission, hors d’oeuvres, cash bar.

(Donations are always welcome.)

Find  your invite at https://tinyurl.com/Museum-celebration

RSVP’s encouraged (but not required) to help us anticipate food and drink quantities.

Direct questions and RSVPs to [email protected].

Eagle Valley History Preservation Award 2022

Eagle Valley History Preservation Award

When: Sunday, May 15, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Eagle Public Library

Honoring: Kathy McDaniel and Reed Perkins, donors of the Borah pioneer journals

Guest Speaker: Historian Marcia Goldstein will present a slide/lecture program, “Let the Women Vote!: Colorado Women’s Struggle for Suffrage”

Details: Free. Light refreshments will be served.

Eagle County pioneer Alfred Borah was a meticulous man who wrote a series of journals recording the daily details of his life from the 1880s through 1917.

Borah’s descendants protected those journals for well over a century, and recently donated the books to the Eagle County Historical Society and the Eagle Valley Library District. Hundreds of journal pages have been digitized, transcribed and are accessible online, providing an incredible local history resource.

Kathy McDaniel and Reed Perkins, donors of the Borah journals, stand in front of the one-room school on Brush Creek where Reed’s mother, Alda Borah, once studied. (Kathy Heicher photo)

Alfred Borah’s grandson, Reed Perkins and great-granddaughter, Kathy McDaniel, will be honored with the Eagle Valley History Preservation Award in a special program at the Eagle Public Library on Sunday, May 15, 1:30 p.m. Formerly known as the “Nimon-Walker Award,” the annual event recognizes people or organizations for their role in preserving local history.

EVLD History Librarian Matthew Mikelson noted that the Borah journals, accessible online, have already proven to be a valuable resource for local history researchers. Last year, History Colorado (the state historical society) recognized the Borah journals digitization as an exemplary and impactful project.

“Many families would throw away old, fragile books of this nature. The Borah descendants protected those journals, then did the necessary footwork  to bring them into the public domain,” noted ECHS President Kathy Heicher.

The Perkins-McDaniel family followed up their donation with a visit to the county last summer, visiting the Borah homestead and the old log one-room school on Brush Creek where Reed’s mother once studied. Reed and McDaniel also donated dozens of historic photos images depicting early-day life on Brush Creek, along with artifacts including clothing, letters and memorabilia.

“These are extremely valuable Eagle County artifacts. Our local history collection is significantly richer because of this family,” says Heicher.

Dr. Marcia Goldstein, Colorado women’s historian

Following Sunday’s award presentation, Colorado women’s historian Dr. Marcia Goldstein will present Let the Women vote! Colorado women’s struggle for suffrage

Colorado women won the right to vote in 1893, making this the first state to approve equal suffrage by popular election. Subsequently, Colorado women voted and ran for office for more than a quarter of a century before women’s suffrage became the law of the land in 1920.

And behind that major milestone is a fascinating story of the massive campaign for women’s rights that involved a coalition of very determined women and men. Colorado women’s historian Dr. Marcia Goldstein will don her suffrage banner and share this history.

Goldstein is an expert on the topic of Colorado women’s politics. She served as a consultant for One Woman, One Vote (part of the PBS series American Experience) and several local PBS suffrage documentaries. She curated and authored an online women’s suffrage exhibit for the Women of the West Museum and has taught American and Colorado history at numerous state and local colleges and universities. Her costumed presentations are lively and informative, tracing the bold footsteps of Colorado’s suffrage leaders and their experiences with what was then the all-male arena of party politics.

The public is invited to this free event. The program is suitable for audiences of any age. Light refreshments will be served.

Red Cliff women pose with a patriotically decorated parade float in 1919. Blanche Tippet is on the far right. Colorado women had been voting since 1893. (Courtesy EVLD/ECHS)

For more details about the event and the Borah journals, visit evld.org or eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.

 

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

Winning Spirit

We can’t resist bragging just a little more about the award-winning Alfred Borah Journals digitization project, a joint effort by the Eagle County Historical Society and Eagle Valley Library District. The project won the 2021 Josephine Miles award from History Colorado (the State Historical Society) which recognizes exceptional history projects in Colorado.

This week History Colorado posted an article titled “Winning Spirit” on their website which describes last year’s award winners. The home page features a photo of the ECHS’s Trail Gulch History Hike, offered in conjunction with the Eagle County Open Space Department and Eagle Valley Land Trust. Take a look!

https://www.historycolorado.org/story/2022/02/18/winning-spirit

Brush Creek history hike, July 2020

 

Book Signing!

Local History Author Kathy Heicher will sign her new book,

Gypsum Days: Pioneers, the Poor Farm & Progress

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2-4 p.m. Gypsum Library

Order on-line at eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com. Also available at the Gypsum Town Hall, at DJ’s and Dahlia’s in Gypsum, at Batson’s Corner in Eagle, and at the Bookworm in Edwards, and at the book signing event.

 

Save the Date!

The Eagle County Historical Society

and

The Eagle Valley Library District

present a free concert with Eli Barsi and John Cunningham on Thursday, January 13th at 6PM, Eagle Public Library.