An Isolated Empire: A History of Northwest Colorado
BLM Cultural Resource Series (Colorado: No. 12)
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Chapter VI:

Prior to the Ute removal, western Colorado was of intense interest to potential settlers and speculators. Middle Park, one of the earliest areas settled west of the divide, saw new development in the 1870's, while far western Colorado was prepared for further settlement by a series of surveys that took place starting in 1871 and lasted until 1876. These surveys were the last major western mapping operations, and they were conducted by the newly created United States Geological Survey, under the direction of Ferdinand V. Hayden.

Hayden began his team surveys with the Middle Park area in 1871. The work included a detailed description of the geology of the park, an appendix that provided details on the flora and fauna, and a physical topographic survey (made by A. R. Marvine). He drew no conclusions as to the worth of the Park. [1] A year later the Grand River valley was explored by A. C. Peale who provided a detailed geologic report on the area. At the same time Gustavus R. Beckler surveyed the geology of South and Middle Parks. The topography of the Grand Valley was done by Henry Gannett in 1875.

In 1876 the results of the far northwestern Colorado surveys were published. The geology of the area was provided by C. A. White, while A. D. Wilson did the topography. F. M. Endlich wrote the geology for the White River section, while George Chittenden provided the topography for the White River. Gustavus Beckler wrote the topographic descriptions of the Yampa Valley. This survey included North Park (Beckler) and over to the Utah-Colorado line. [2]

The 1876 survey showed that North Park had some 700 square miles of grazing lands that had agricultural potential. [3] The Hayden party noted that Douglas and Piceance Creeks were constant, but other subsidiary creeks could not be relied upon, which made agriculture in the Piceance Basin risky. [4] They concluded that the Yampa and Egeria Park areas were good grazing lands, while the Little Snake River region was well watered grassland. [5] The party noted that agriculture was possible in that "Mr. Danforth has cultivated about forty acres of land for the use of the agency...". This referred to Reverend Danforth's efforts at the White River Agency where he was growing potatoes, turnips, beets, and carrots in 1875. [6]

The Hayden survey of this area consisted of a sample of 800 square miles, which took ten days to survey. This would seem like a very small sample of land. However, the group managed to look at most of the major geologic features of the region, and they triangulated most of the corner with remarkable accuracy. The conclusions drawn from the survey were that agriculture would be difficult without irrigation, and that the land was good only near the river valleys where grazing could take place. The Hayden survey provided the first solid information on this area since the Frémont and Powell expeditions. Through the publication of such information, prospective settlers were apprised of the worth of the land. Hayden really did little to help settlement; in 1876 he wrote that the region was: ". . .nearly all uninhabitable both winter and summer. . ." [7] Hayden notwithstanding, settlers moved into this worthless region.

During the Hayden surveys a major scandal took place in far western Colorado. In 1872 the reported discovery of "diamonds" in the region precipitated a major mining investment boom; this swindle was of such quality and magnitude that many prominent men became involved in it. The plot revolved around Phillip Arnold and John Slack, who came to San Francisco with a sackful of raw diamonds. The stones were carefully shown to the "right people", and it was intimated that a huge field existed somewhere in the West. [8]

Slack and Arnold disappeared and then reappeared; soon they were bought out for $600,000, and the New York and San Francisco Mining and Commercial Company was founded by such luminaries as Grenville Dodge, General George McClellan, and Ben Butler. But there were skeptics. To quiet fears, the company hired Henry Janin, whose reputation was unquestioned when it came to evaluating mining potential; Janin looked at the goods and pronounced them real. [9] This was the beginning of a rush to Colorado. It was hinted that the diamonds were in the San Luis Valley, but the Laramie Sentinel scooped Colorado papers, when it determined that the field was in Wyoming or northern Colorado. [10] In addition, Clarence King, head of the United States Geological Survey, had been drawn into the "find", and he had approved of it.

In the fall of 1872 a serious search for the gem field began. Samuel F. Emmons of the USGS started to work with what little information he had, and soon concluded that what is now called the Diamond Peak area was the probable site. Emmons and his party worked in the Green and Yampa valleys seeking the field; they found little but coal. [11] However, Emmons and his men did finally indeed find gems, mostly rubies, on the north side of the peak. Within hours, mining claims were scattered over the mountain. However, upon further investigation, the Emmons group found that the stones had been planted near ant-hills, which showed signs of having been disturbed. Soon they gathered enough evidence to indicate that a fraud had been perpetrated. It was not until November, 1872, that King released the news that the diamond fields were a hoax. The company that had been created collapsed, and $350,000 in invested monies disappeared. King and the USGS got some glory from this fraud - many miners and mining communities noted that thanks to the Geological Survey, events such as this could be prevented. In exposing the fraud, King helped set the stage for new USGS work in the west; people felt that the government was doing something to protect public interest.

The Middle Park and Egeria Park areas were developing rapidly into cattle and ranch lands by the mid-1870's. As has been noted William Byers tried to develop Hot Sulphur Springs as a resort in the early 1860's; however, due to the lack of good roads into the Park, not much developed. Middle Park was finally opened in 1873, when John Q. A. Rollins constructed a wagon road over Rollins Pass. This toll road led from South Boulder Creek over the Continental Divide and down into the Winter Park area. It was a well-built road, usable most of the year. Rollins charged $2.50 per wagon, and with this development, Middle Park saw a new flow of settlers. That same year saw the creation of Grand County, with Byers, Rollins, and Porter M. Smart in the lead. With the establishment of a county, the Middle Park country became civilized to a point that some towns actually sprang up. Byers drew up plans for the town of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1873, while other little ranches were destined to become towns. [12]

Middle Park, now Grand County, saw a number of filings take place. Hilery Harris filed for a ranch in 1874, while Tracy Tyler claimed land at the site of Kremmling. John Himebaugh took out a claim, as did a family named McQueary. The Humphrey and Green families were soon to arrive. In 1875 Henry King took out land along Troublesome Creek. In July, 1875, Barney Day appeared and claimed a ranch along the same creek. He was the father of the first white child born in the Park in July, 1876. [13]

However, despite the number of families coming into the Park, the main trade was still summer tourism. It was estimated that in August, 1874, between 200 and 300 visitors were in the area. They scattered out from Grand Lake to Hot Sulphur Springs. In fact, trade was so good that Byers built a second hotel at the Springs that same year. While Byers was expanding his holdings, Rollins bought land near the Fraser River to provide hay. Here he built the Junction House at the site of the present town of Tabernash. [14] Porter Smart also tried to cash in on the boom by organizing the Bear River Colonization and Improvement Company to import settlers, an operation that came to naught.

In the same year the Berthoud Pass road was rebuilt and opened to traffic. The major figure behind this was Lewis Gaskill, who finally settled in Middle Park. The Berthoud Road was soon recognized as superior to Rollins Pass, and by 1880 the Rollins Road was in ruins. Berthoud Pass provided better transportation into the Park. In 1875 mail service was begun over the Pass, and by 1876 a regular stage run was inaugurated by the Colorado Stage Company, Bela Hughes and Ben Holladay, owners. [15]

Lewis Gaskill was destined to become one of the major figures in the Park, for he discovered gold in the region. In 1879 a minor boom occurred when gold was found near Teller City. From it arose a series of towns including Teller City, Lulu City, and Burnett. These little camps showed great promise in the early '80's, but by 1885 the rush was over, and the towns died from lack of mineral resources. The census of 1885 shows the population of Grand County at only fifteen. [16]

Mining was not solely to blame for the depletion of the population. The threat of the Ute Indians remained until after 1879. In fact, over 100,000 acres of timber were burned in 1878, and a number of settlers fled. Yet a few remained; William Cozens established the first post office in Fraser in 1876 and stayed through the various problems, while the King family was still there in 1885. Still, Middle Park, an area that had shown so much promise, was virtually dead by 1885. [17]

With the Middle Park area very slowly filling up, other settlers continued to press westward. In 1876 the James H. Crawford family settled in the Steamboat Springs area. This became the site of modern-day Steamboat Springs. Other than a few miners at Hahn's Peak, the upper end of the Yampa Valley remained unsettled. Egeria Park was settled to a limited extent by 1882, but these people were primarily in the ranching business, and many of them moved north to Steamboat. Egeria Park's first permanent settler was Bernard Spunk, who came to the area in 1882. The next year a post office was opened at his ranch. [18]

Farther west a few ranches were appearing. With the ranches came small settlements which usually contained a post office and a supply store. These trading posts catered to local ranchers (of whom there were very few), and until late 1879, to the Utes of the region. That there was settlement is seen in George Crofutt's listing of towns (usually post offices) as of 1881. In northwestern Colorado the following "towns" were found:

Egeria (Park)
Hahn's Peak
Hot Sulphur Springs
Lulu (City)
Middle (Park)
North Park
Steamboat Springs
Teller (City)

The western slope of Colorado was indeed being settled, but the so-called towns were widely scattered. Weekly mail service to Rawlins, Wyoming was common, as was semi-regular stage service. Crofutt notes that all lines led from Rawlins. For example, he notes that Axial was 135 miles from Rawlins and the stage fare was twenty-two dollars, one way. [20] He stated that Hayden was 122 miles from Rawlins, while Rangely was so isolated that it had no mail service. Most of the towns were stock raising supply centers, and Crofutt found that they had little potential for growth. [21]

North Park also saw settlement by the mid-1870's. J. O. Pinkham (after whom Pinkhampton was named) brought cattle into the Park in 1874 or 1875. He used the natural abundance of wild hay to feed his stock, while at the same time he sold some of it to settlers in Middle Park. [22] Across the Park Range, the Steamboat Springs area's main crop was also wild hay, which was shipped to Wyoming for transport back East on the Union Pacific. [23]

By the mid-1880's, Middle, North, and Egeria Parks had been settled. Cattle and hay were the main industries, although some coal was being mined in the Steamboat Springs area for local consumption.

freight wagons
Freight Wagons Often Carried Ten Tons of Goods Over the Worst Possible Roads. University of Iowa

Steamboat Springs became the unofficial "capitol" of the region by the late 1880's. The townsite itself was laid out in 1884 by James Crawford. The Steamboat Springs Townsite Company was capitalized at $160,000, and soon after the formal organization, merchants began to appear. The Steamboat Pilot was founded in 1885, while the first general store was incorporated in 1886 as Milner and Company. A few years earlier a mail route from Steamboat to Hayden had been established, when a small mining rush occurred on Fortification Creek. Along the creek placer gold was found in 1882, but the boom died out, and little else developed in that area. Steamboat, having a newspaper, a series of stores, and by 1889 a stage line to Russell (Wolcott), became the largest town in the area. It was estimated that 500 people resided in the Steamboat Springs region. [24]

Further development of this area had to wait until better transportation was available. New mineral deposits also. helped to re-stimulate the Yampa Valley. To the west the cattle industry was dominant, and most cattlemen were very careful to keep the range to themselves. Such names as Iles, Hoy, Rash, and Haley were dominant in northwestern Colorado society, politics, and economic development.

Map 6. Settlement in Middle Park and the Yampa Valley (click on map for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 31-Oct-2008