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Prospecting at the End of a Rope

(Editor’s note: Richard Perske is the author of  “Boom Town to Ghost Town: The Story of Fulford.” Since the book was published in 2015, Perske continues to dig deeper into the history of this Eagle County mining camp at the base of New York Mountain.)

 

Prospecting at the End of a Rope

By Richard Perske

Arthur Fulford, the daredevil prospector. (Courtesy ECHS and EVLD)

Art Fulford read the Leadville Herald Democrat of January 1, 1886 with a great deal of pride and personal satisfaction. The article titled “EAGLE’S CAPITAL” and described in great detail the town of Red Cliff, the county seat of Eagle County. The article cited several of Fulford’s recent achievements and gold mining successes. Nearby Battle Mountain was finally booming again and largely because of him. Art could well remember his earlier and less prosperous times in Colorado. Red Cliff had a pretty humble beginning as well.

 

Red Cliff had been established in 1879 and at that time was a remote silver mining camp in Summit County, accessed by trails and a very bad wagon road to Leadville. Red Cliff had its ups and downs as the silver mines on Battle Mountain were first discovered and the area boomed, then slumped. Early on, mine speculators and bad luck damaged the reputation of the town. However, everyone had faith in the mineral treasure in the Battle Mountain mines. Even that faith would soon be sorely tested.

The nearby Holy Cross Mining District had initially showed great promise as a gold producer. Numerous veins showing free gold had very good initial assay results. Speculators quickly sold their claims to large companies who made major mine investments, only to discover that the gold content diminished significantly a few feet below the surface. Eons of natural weathering and erosion had concentrated the gold mainly near the surface. The mining companies soon went bankrupt and pulled out, contributing to a general slump in Red Cliff mining investments.

Red Cliff had become noticeably cash-poor by late 1881 and the merchants were forced to extend credit to many customers. Mining was very risky business and the local smelter operation was a large part of the problem. The Battle Mountain Smelter Company in Red Cliff refined the silver ore output from the mines and was in dire financial difficulty. The smelter closed in March 1882, owing its workers four months unpaid back wages. The workers, merchants, and suppliers were owed nearly $40,000 and were very angry.  The smelter’s financial  manager F.C. Garbutt, unable to satisfy their demands for payment, wisely secured a horse and left town just ahead of a growing mob. That night the mob paraded on Eagle Street and lit a large bonfire to burn Mr. Garbutt in effigy. This was only the first blow to the town’s economy.  The Belden mine, the area’s best producer, was also forced to close and a dispute among the Denver owners put the mine in an extended period of receivership. Many Red Cliff men were idled and out of work in 1882. The economic slump would last at least 12 months.

On the night of September 22, 1882 nearly half of Red Cliff burned to the ground as the result of a disastrous fire that started at the Southern hotel, saloon, and dance hall located in the Strand building on Water Street.

This turn-of-the century photo shows a bustling Red Cliff business district. The Quartzite Hotel is on the right side, middle of the photo. (Courtesy ECHS and EVLD)

Red Cliff  managed to slowly rebound from these early misfortunes. The State Legislature established Eagle County in late 1883 and Red Cliff, the only town, became the county seat. By then the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad had finally reached Red Cliff providing essential ore freight, scheduled passenger coaches, and telegraph service to Leadville and the world beyond. The Battle Mountain lead and silver ore was now being shipped by rail to Leadville smelters. However, it was the efforts of a “daredevil prospector” named A.H. Fulford who found gold in the quartzite cliffs of Battle Mountain in 1884 that finally put the town back on its feet.

On October 12, 1884 Art and two partners discovered and located the Ben Butler mine high on a remote unclaimed cliff section of Battle Mountain. Bob Haney and Will Travers lowered Art on a rope to investigate the high cliff crevices and openings in the quartzite formation. He found a fissure vein that yielded high grade free-milling gold ore. Art sacked the ore and they hauled it up the cliff by rope. Art soon became known as “the daredevil prospector”. By December they were shipping the first gold ore produced from the Battle Mountain quartzite contact and a new gold rush was on. The Ben Butler quickly developed into a big gold producer and the partners were getting rich. In 1885 Art used some of his proceeds to buy interests in other nearby quartzite mines including the Gold Wedge, Golden Wonder, and Percy Chester. He also took on several local partners to help finance the costs of mine development. All of these mines became very good gold producers and Art was soon supervising 45 men developing the remarkable Percy Chester mine.

This 1898 postcard shows the D&RG Railroad narrow gauge track in Eagle River canyon. The Ben Butler mine is visible among the sharp-pointed rocks in the upper right corner. (Courtesy ECHS and EVLD)

In the two years prior to Art’s discovery the annual production of the Battle Mountain mines in both silver and gold was about $500,000. In 1885 gold production had doubled and in 1886 gold production alone would reach $420,000. Total ore production for 1886 would exceed $1,000,000. The economic impact of Art’s Ben Butler gold discovery on the town of Red Cliff and Battle Mountain mine production was huge. The cliffside quartzite gold formation was no longer being ignored. Red Cliff even had a new hotel named “The Quartzite.”

 

The discovery of rich gold ore in the Ben Butler quartzite spurred the development of other nearby claims that had not previously been worked. Renewed exploration of the quartzite fissure veins had quickly doubled the value of gold output on Battle Mountain, entirely due to Art’s amazing discovery. The nearly inaccessible claims in the quartzite cliffs formed a narrow band just below several well-established silver mines, the Eagle Bird, the R.L.R., and the Belden.  Art and his brother Mont took a lease on the nearby Ground Hog mine and made a considerable gold strike there as well.

Art supervised the construction and development of the Percy Chester mine and employed 45 miners. They constructed a 750 cable tram to deliver ore to the D&RG tracks below. When the miners encountered a large, flooded cave with promising ore, it was pumped and drained and the valuable heavy, wet ore delivered to a trackside building and dryer that Art devised. The mine machinery, ore trams, and pumps were run by steam engines.

In the spring of 1886, the camp was finally prosperous and booming again largely due to Art Fulford’s gold discovery in the quartzite. People were optimistic and many were sharing in the riches of Battle Mountain.

This drawing of Battle Mountain mining claims appeared in the Leadville Herald Democrat newspaper on June 1, 1890. The Ben Butler claim is on the right. (From the Colorado Historic Newspapers website)

(Want to learn more about Eagle County’s early mining days? Rich Perske’s “Boom Town to Ghost Town: The Story of Fulford” book may be purchased from the Eagle County Historical website, or at several retail outlets in the Eagle Valley.)

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.

 

The Ladies of the Garden Club: Growing a community

Eagle’s downtown flowerpots overflow with bright petunias this summer. The pretty petals are both decorative and historically correct. Since 1934, the petunia has been Eagle’s official flower, thanks to the forward-thinking and sometimes formidable ladies of the Eagle Garden Club.

Francis Watson

They were community activists, using their flower seeds, charm, and persistence to advance the town. Civic improvement was the primary goal when the club formed in July 1932. Twenty-two women members signed on at that first meeting. The club’s first president was Mrs. George Watson, the wife of a prominent, cattle-ranching county commissioner.

For several decades, the fourth Wednesday of every month was Garden Club meeting day. The women educated themselves by researching and presenting “papers” on topics including the study of plant names, the benefits of birds in the garden, and storing vegetables for winter.

The civic projects started out small. The club transformed an old horse watering trough at the north end of Broadway into summer flower garden. Mrs. A.B. (Laura) Koonce planted flowers and vines, then toted water to the trough throughout the summer to keep the plants alive.

The success of that project led to a competition recognizing the best-kept homes and gardens. The townspeople responded enthusiastically. Small cash prizes were awarded, and pride abounded.

Flowers on Broadway

In August 1932, the ladies hosted the first-ever Flower Show in Eagle. They expected limited participation, theorizing that only a few varieties of flowers could be grown at Eagle’s mountain elevation. To the Club’s surprise,  35 contestants showed up with over 57 varieties of flowers displayed in baskets, jars, and vases. The flowers were exhibited with considerable community pride. The Flower Show became a beloved annual affair.

Next up was  a Christmas outdoor lighting contest that the Garden Club initiated with the help of the men (mostly Garden Club husbands) of the Eagle Commercial Club and the Lions Club. The enthusiastic response from businesses and homeowners made Eagle the talk of the Western Slope that holiday season.

Bigger projects

The civic projects grew bigger. The new county courthouse lacked landscaping. The Club ladies responded with shrubs, grass, and trees. The Eagle Cemetery was a dusty patch of sagebrush-strewn gypsum soil. Led by Mrs. Caroline Thoberg, the Garden Club ladies spent months working with the Cemetery Association on a landscaping plan. They strong-armed their husbands into providing the muscle. The community effort resulted in the grassy, tree-dotted oasis that provides a peaceful final resting place for Eagle residents today.

Their work went beyond grass and gardens. During the Great Depression, needy families were supplied with generous Christmas baskets. When World War II started, the Garden Club ladies turned their attention to salvaging silk, nylon hosiery, and waste fats. They also sewed for the Red Cross.

The women raised money by selling subscriptions to “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine, and hosting luncheons and card parties. The prizes were often flower bulbs.

Helen Hart Allen

It was not easy to deter the  garden club ladies from an identified project. In March 1934, at the suggestion of Helen Allen (the wife of local bank president J.D. Allen), the Club declared the petunia, something of a floral newcomer to the county, to be Eagle’s official flower. The plan was to plant petunias in every local garden. The Garden Club handled the cost and the labor of planting petunias in public places including gas stations and Broadway businesses.

The petunia decision was dutifully reported in the Eagle Valley Enterprise newspaper. However, the following week, an anonymous writer (most likely Enterprise editor and publisher

Adrian Reynolds) expressed disappointment in the selection of the petunia as Eagle’s flower. He was a fan of sweet peas and suggested that would have been a better choice.

Affronted, the Garden Club ladies did not back down. Their response letter-to-the-editor acknowledged the sweet pea as a beautiful flower but pointed out that the petunias were ideal for many more purposes including porch boxes, flower beds, borders and rock gardens. The women also noted that petunias come in many varieties, blossom from early summer through frost, and could be wintered indoors. Also, the town of Aspen had already claimed the sweet pea as its official flower. Nobody likes being second.

Duly chastised, the editor meekly declared his intent to plant “a solid bed of petunias this year.”

Mrs. Jack Layton and roses

The Garden Club thrived. They hosted a delegation from the Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs. They joined in a state-wide discussion of the need to reign in the proliferation of billboards along highways and byways  (and indeed, there are no billboards in Eagle County today). The little Eagle group became affiliated with the National Federation of Garden Clubs.

Despite their many good works, the women of the Eagle Garden Club probably never got the recognition they truly deserved. True to the social customs of the time, the women were recognized in newspapers or public discussion by their spouse’s names, rather than their own. Even their obituaries rarely mentioned a female first name. Yet, these women figured every bit as prominently in the history of Eagle County as did their husbands.

Consider the example of a few of the club’s founding members. Mrs. George Watson (Francis) was a very capable horsewoman, as good as any ranch hand at rounding up cattle. Mrs. Nick Buchholz (Jeanette) served as the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. Mrs. A.K. Ethel (Mabel) was the wife of a county judge (she was his court clerk). When he died in 1933, the county commissioners appointed Mabel to the judgeship … and paid her $20 less per month. Her very first case was a highly controversial and precedent-setting issue involving a sheep rancher trailing his herd across public land designated as cattle range. She presided over the court for over 10 years.

The Garden Club ladies grew more than flowers. They grew a community. And if they were to stroll through downtown Eagle today, they would be pleased.

Kathy Heicher     July 3, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Horn Ranch Hike

Horn Ranch Hike

Friday, May 29, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m

at the Horn Ranch

The Eagle Valley Land Trust and Eagle County Historical Society will lead a hike to the historic stone quarry at the Horn Ranch on Friday, May 29, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. Learn about the Horn Ranch conservation project, and Historical Society President Kathy Heicher will share the history of the early ranch and the colorful characters that lived there.

Sign up through the Eagle Valley Land Trust website (evlt.org). Advance registration required. More information at Horn Ranch Hike .

These popular tours have limited space, and fill up quickly. Early reservations are recommended. Please email community@evlt.org for more information and to reserve your spot.

Barnstormers

After months of planning, fundraising, and tremendous support from the local community, the roof replacement on our museum/barn is underway. The crew from A.G. Roofing in Eagle took extra steps to protect the artifacts stored in the barn loft. Originally built in 1899 by Eagle rancher R.P. Wood, the barn was repurposed into a museum in the late 1980s. The new roof was necessary in order to protect the irreplaceable artifacts housed in the museum.

Protecting artifacts

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the museum will remain closed during the months of May and June. The ECHS Board will re-evaluate the situation in mid-summer to determine of the facility can be safely opened to the public this year.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HISTORY TAKE-OUT: UTE STEM PROGRAM

History Take-Out: Ute STEM program

We are now practicing social distancing in an effort to slow the impact of the coronavirus. However, before that became an issue, we were able to test our new “hands on” educational program which focuses on Colorado’s Ute history.

Created by historians at History Colorado, this program utilizes STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math) to teach students about the Utes. The kids used their STEM skills to build teepees, evaluate “basket”  water holders, identify plants, create beading designs, construct a moccasin, and calculate horseback travel times.

Our first outing with the program was in early February at Vail Mountain School. A half-dozen Historical Society volunteers, along with VMS teachers and experts from History Colorado, spent an entire school day sharing the program with a total of 156 students, grades kindergarten through fifth. We loved their enthusiasm and gained some valuable experience in presenting the Ute STEM program. We look forward to a return to the time when we can take this program to more Eagle County schools.

 

Meanwhile, we urge those who are homeschooling these days to take a look at History Colorado’s wonderful digital learning programs. https://www.historycolorado.org/digital-learning

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History of Eagle County + Walking Tour of Gypsum

History of Eagle County + a Walking Tour of Gypsum

First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 400 2nd St., Gypsum

Tuesday March 10, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Special Offer for Eagle County Historical Society members
And the First Evangelical Lutheran Congregation

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 Gypsum’s Historic downtown.

To reserve a spot in the class, RSVP to: ECHS@eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com by March 8. Cost of the class is $10 for ECHS members. (Pay cash at the door or via the “Donation” button on our website, eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.)

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

History Snowshoe Hike February 22, 2020

History Snowshoe Hike: The Ranger Brown Trail

Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020

9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Join the Eagle County Historical Society and Walking Mountain Science Center for a snowshoe history trek on East Brush Creek. Local historian Kathy Heicher will share stories about Ranger Brown, who tended the forest from 1920-1935. Working primarily by himself, Ranger Brown handled tasks including managing grazing allotments for local ranchers, building key trails and roads, building Forest Service cabins and offices throughout Eagle County, and handling predator control issues involving wolves! Brown also managed the Civilian Conservation Corps camp established in 1940. Come enjoy a half day snowshoe hike while learning about this fascinating character who helped shape many of the trails and forest resources in our valley.

Sign up at:

https://walkingmountains.doubleknot.com/event/snowshoe-through-history-east-brush-creek/2631665

CCC Camp, Yeoman; photo credit ECHS & EVLD

This hike will be a moderate 2.5 mile snowshoe. Snowshoes & poles are provided. Bring a lunch for a post tour picnic at Yeoman Park Campground. The program meets at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon at 9am. If you would like to be picked up in Eagle, please reach out to nathanbr@walkingmountains.org.

Historical Society members are offered a 30 percent discount. Please contact us at ECHS@eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com for the discount code.