Tag Archive for: Eagle County Colorado

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 ECHS@eaglecountyhistoricalsociety.com.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the winner is…

Quilt Raffle Winner!

Lana Corll of Eagle purchased the winning ticket for the “Underground Railroad” quilt that was raffled by the Eagle County Historical Society. The quilt, made and donated by the High Altitude Quilting Guild, raised about $800 for the Historical Society, which will be used for updating and improving museum exhibits. Many thanks to all of those who stitched the quilt and to those who purchased tickets. We appreciate the support!

The Borah Journals: A Chronicle of pioneer life

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

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

Alfred Borah

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

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

Borah hunting camp

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

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

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

 

Prospecting the “Indian Country”
             May 11, 1882

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

Alfred Borah journal

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

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

Hunting and homesteading

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

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

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

Jake Borah

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

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

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

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

Pioneer romance

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

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

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

Alfred Borah journal

Mary, Al, and Mittie Borah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary and Alda Borah

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

 

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