Rocky Mountain National Park
A History
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Chapter 4:

"To the West! To the West! There is wealth to be won."
Charles Mackay, as quoted by F. V. Hayden in
The Great West. [1]

ESTES PARK saw a second wave of pioneer settlers arriving during the mid-1870s and the grip of total English ownership was quickly challenged. At about the same time a tide of prospectors also began sweeping across the mountains when tales of hidden wealth struck men with mineral on their minds. Meanwhile, the hunters, mountain climbers, and curious tourists continued to wander about, depending more and more upon the few local settlers for shelter and sustenance. But within a couple of decades, most of the prospectors would wander away and subsistence ranchers would start resorts. Mountain-loving tourists rather than miners established the principal use for this stretch of Rockies: recreation.

A man who lived through the decades of change after 1875 and took the time to record his memories before his death in 1943 was Abner E. Sprague. A dark, handsome fellow then aged twenty-four, Sprague climbed Longs Peak for his first time in 1874. He and a partner, Clarence Chubbuck, returned in May of 1875 and proceeded to become squatters on the public domain, building a cabin in today's Moraine Park (then called Willow Park). Together they joined a handful of settlers willing to challenge the Earl of Dunraven's claim to most of Estes Park. Only a month later, however, Chubbuck was murdered during a cattle roundup out on the plains. That left Sprague and his sixteen-year-old brother Fred to develop their homestead in the heart of the Rockies.

Having crossed the plains from Iowa to Colorado in a prairie schooner at age fifteen, Abner Sprague was not the first of this new wave of Estes Park settlers. Alexander Q. MacGregor, a lawyer from Wisconsin, saw the park as a profitable business opportunity. He obtained land on the northern fringe of Estes Park around 1874, at the very same time the Earl of Dunraven was attempting to gain full ownership. Meanwhile, Horace Ferguson and his family homesteaded near Marys Lake. J. T. Cleave arrived and would later start a store at the junction of the Fall and Big Thompson rivers early in the 1880s; the site eventually became today's village of Estes Park. Soon these men were joined by half a dozen other pioneer families. Further south, at the base of Longs Peak, a United Brethren missionary, Reverend Elkanah Lamb, established a homestead in 1875. There he rapidly developed a lodge for visitors called the Longs Peak House. He and his son Carlyle began guiding people up Longs Peak for five dollars a trip.

Abner Sprague, his parents, and his brother Fred discovered that their newly claimed land had some drawbacks. Building a cabin from rough-hewn timber became one of their simplest problems; furnishing it with "Carrie Nation furniture" ("made with a hatchet") as Sprague called it, seemed to be even less trouble. By August the family was able to live in reasonable comfort. But then Abner was struck down with "mountain fever," a mysterious ailment that kept him in bed for over a month. Home remedies—including warm salt water, doses of tobacco, dashes of ice water, and opium—were given in lieu of proper medical treatment. All failed to produce immediate relief but despite the home medicine, he gradually recovered. That autumn when their parents departed to spend winter on the prairie, Abner and Fred decided to watch over their herd of cattle and spend what proved to be a brutal season in Moraine Park.

On September 22nd, 1875, snow fell to a depth of two feet. Although some nice weather followed, periodic blizzards kept the brothers confined to their cabin, once for a solid two weeks. One day Hank Farrar, a well-known guide and hunter in the region, stopped by and offered to fill the Sprague's larder with some game. Tramping up a nearby ridge, Farrar killed two deer with a single shot. One animal he gave to the grateful Sprague brothers. At that point Abner vowed to purchase a rifle of his own, promising to avoid any future possibility of hunger. Farrar, together with Horace Ferguson, continued the occupation of hunting elk for the Denver market that winter. But by the late 1870s, Sprague recalled, "the meat of our wild animals became so cheap in the valley markets, that it did not pay for the haul." [2] Maintaining a food supply continued to be a worry as a volley of blizzards kept coming all winter long. Then cold and windy weather persisted through late spring. The final blizzard of that memorable season started on May 20th, lasted thirty-six hours, and dumped three feet of snow on the region. Regardless of all the hardships, isolation, and harsh weather, Sprague noted that they lost only one cow from their herd of cattle, the rest managing to forage on wind-swept meadows. By June of 1876, Abner Sprague must have wondered whether Moraine Park was such a choice location after all.

A native of Dundee, Illinois, Abner Sprague came to Colorado in 1864 at age fourteen. He worked as a locating engineer for the Missouri Pacific railroad and later served as Larimer County Surveyor. In 1875 Sprague joined the handful of settlers then claiming land adjacent to the Earl of Dunraven's Estes Park holdings. (RMNPHC)

At the time Sprague completed his first cabin, the Earl of Dunraven controlled at least six thousand acres of Estes Park land. Settlers such as the MacGregors, Fergusons, James, and Spragues located sections of the park overlooked by the English Company or took advantage of mistaken claims following a hurried survey. Theodore Whyte, manager of the English interests, expected to run five or six hundred head of cattle in the park, using every corner of pasture land, whether it belonged to Dunraven or not. The arriving settlers crimped those plans. As Abner Sprague explained: Estes Park did not furnish grazing lands sufficient to make the cattle business pay; the settlers confined the company to their own lands by surrounding them with their claims, thus cutting off the larger part of the pasture lands of the region." Whyte also put on the airs of an aristocratic Englishman, building even more resentment among his American neighbors. "Whyte came bringing his race horses, hunters, dogs and guns," Sprague recalled somewhat bitterly, "in fact all the paraphernalia of an English gentleman; for was he not sent here to establish and keep up all the customs and usages of such an estate: purely English, nothing American was supposed to creep in? So it looked to us." [3] The coming of these settlers and the restrictions that they placed on the Earl's domain probably made Dunraven and Whyte change their plans from ranching to developing a resort, The English Hotel.

Located in scenic Moraine Park, Abner Sprague's homestead proved to be in an ideal location to serve travelers. (RMNPHC)

Sprague claimed that the English Company harassed these "Pioneers of 1875." The company ignored their claims, trying to discourage any permanent residence. Soon after Sprague arrived to homestead in Moraine Park, Whyte and two of his cowboys rode up and ordered them off the land. Sprague and his father stood their ground. They informed Whyte about errors in the company's claims and about the legality of their own. One of the "annoying methods" Whyte then used was to round up his cattle and drive them onto the settlers' land. One day Whyte and his cowboys drove two hundred head of cattle into the Moraine Park meadow and placed salt there to keep the herd from straying. Sprague simply waited until the Earl's men left and then dispatched his "good shepard dog" after the cattle. The thundering herd arrived back in Estes Park before Whyte and his men had themselves returned. Whyte tried the same trick a second time, but Sprague chased them off once again. He followed the cattle back to Estes Park personally. There he met Whyte and "had it out with him." "We had quite a wordy row," Sprague noted, but the issue was settled. "We had no further trouble with the company stock up our way." [4]

The Earl of Dunraven's ranch extended throughout Estes Park and into adjacent valleys. The Earl's cattle grazed everywhere, with friction developing between the monopolistic English landlord and the pioneers of 1875. (Lulabeth and Jack Melton Collection)

Other settlers were not so fortunate. George I. Bodde, for example, was a German immigrant who homesteaded in 1876 and gained his patent in 1881. His land sat closer to the Earl's main pasture, causing more friction. Bothersome cattle forced Bodde to fence his property. Apparently Whyte had his cowboys rip the fence down and soon the cattle were again grazing across Bodde's land. The German became infuriated, but there was little he could do. When Bodde met Theodore Whyte at a stream crossing a short time later rage gained the upper hand and Bodde grabbed Whyte, prepared to toss him in the creek, but then lost his nerve and released the rascal. Mr. Bodde became the only pioneer to physically vent his disgust at Whyte and the company and their tactics. Shortly there after, George Bodde sold out and moved away.

According to Abner Sprague, the English Company expected that all the settlers would eventually starve, sell out cheap just like Bodde, and leave all of the park to the Earl. "Perhaps he would have been able to do so," Sprague admitted, "only for the visitors to the Park, who were glad to pay for accommodations while in the Park, and forced us, or most of us, to go into that business." [5]

For several decades, herds of cattle roamed where resorts, recreation, and revelry would later predominate. (Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

The exact number of tourists arriving in Estes Park during the summers of the 1870s and 1880s is unknown, yet there is plenty of evidence of the region's growing popularity among vacationers. Among those adventurous travelers, Carrie Adell Strahorn offered us a glimpse into tourist travel in 1878. In her book Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, she describes riding by stagecoach from Longmont through Lyons and into Estes Park upon a newly improved toll road carved only four years earlier by Alexander MacGregor's Estes Park Wagon Road Company. "The stage ride was one of grandeur," she remembered, "from the very first turn of the wheels, up, up, up, along the zigzag trail until the day was nearly spent. . . ." Her initial impressions of Estes Park, "a veritable Eden," were only enhanced by a lengthy stay centered at the twelve-hundred-acre MacGregor Ranch. [6]

Branding cattle on the Earl of Dunraven's ranch offered his guests a spectacle of the American West. (Lulabeth and Jack Melton Collection)

Her "days of exploring" on horseback were highlighted by trips to Lily Lake, Willow (Moraine) Park, and into "the mysterious depths of Black Canyon, with its thick growth of pines and black and gloomy shadows." [7] Hank Farrar served as her party's guide, but his fame briefly waned when he lost the trail upon their return trip from Emma Lake (today's Potts Puddle). Several people in the group became "decidedly uneasy" about spending the night out. But Farrar quickly rediscovered the trail and had the visitors back at MacGregor's shortly after nightfall. Strahorn also noted other tidbits of historical interest: such as making a brief stop at Sprague's for a cool glass of milk, seeing summer cabins and camps dotting the landscape, shooting a few bighorn sheep, spotting the Earl of Dunraven's famed resort, and offering a critique of a camping party from Boston dressed as "reminders of the Aztecs in their barbaric costumes . . . of outlandish design." As was the case with many visitors, Strahorn left the park reluctantly, believing "as we turned our backs upon its enchantments, the sun never shown more brilliantly, the flowers never blossomed more beautifully, and the waters never chanted more hypnotic music, all luring us to stay." [8]

Around 1890, J. S. Flory made a vacation journey into the region slightly different from that of Strahorn's. His observations were reported in Thrilling Echoes from the Wild Frontier published in 1893. Flory and his five companions were probably typical campers of their day, quite self-sufficient. They took a two-horse wagon with its canvas cover pulled back in order to view the scenery as they drove. Reasonably well equipped, they took "a camp tent, camp stove, buffalo robes, blankets and other necessary bedding, overcoats, rubbers, umbrellas, boxes and sacks of provisions, cooking utensils, table furniture, guns and ammunition, fishing tackle, feed for our team, picket ropes," as well as other items "too tedious to mention." [9]

Vacation trips to the mountains became ever more frequent as the nineteenth century progressed, with camping out always popular. (RMNPHC)

Two days were spent traveling from the plains to Elder Lamb's resort. While passing The English Hotel they spotted the Earl "who was out with two ladies riding." Flory tersely noted that "he passes much of his time hunting with his friends." Soon they embarked upon a climb of Longs Peak, camping at timberline. That evening the light of their campfire "attracted to our camp a jack rabbit," Flory observed, making first mention of wildlife, "which served as a target for our camp artillery." [10] A lucky shot dispatched the rabbit, but Flory admitted that he "had a sore arm for the rest of that night owing to the back action of the gun." [11] Longs Peak was surmounted the next day without incident and as they descended they met several other parties heading upward. Returning to Lamb's resort, Flory recalled that "we got some of the best milk and butter we ever tasted," inferring that their climb or the mountain air produced ravenous appetites. [12]

With very few establishments catering to vactioners' needs, turn-of-the-century campers had to be self-sufficient. Occasionally travelers called upon people like the Spragues for a taste of fresh food. (Lulabeth and Jack Melton Collection)

The men quickly retreated to the trout streams of Estes Park. There they began angling with great success, hardly bothered by rainy weather. "What piles of fish around that camp!" Flory exclaimed. "What beauties they were, fresh from those icy waters." Feasting on fish, singing around their campfire, and watching pitch pines shoot sparks at the stars brought their vacation in Estes Park to a successful conclusion. "Oh! how we love to steal awhile away from the busy haunts of the noisy world," Flory said, rationalizing his leisure, "and recuperate our tired brain, revive our weakened energies and then come forth anew to the battle of life." [13] Many campers, climbers, and fishermen who followed Flory's tracks would certainly agree.

Sad to say, despite the pleasures of camping, climbing, and cavorting in these mountains, tragedy visited a few vacationers. On September 23, 1884, Miss Carrie J. Welton, a wealthy young lady from Waterbury, Connecticut, climbed Longs Peak with Carlyle Lamb as her guide. While descending the mountain near the Keyhole she collapsed from exhaustion, imploring Lamb to go for help. When Lamb and a rescue team returned, they found her dead from a combination of exhaustion and exposure. A few years later, on August 28th, 1889, four members of the Stryker family of Tipton, Iowa, father, son, and two uncles, embarked upon a similar climb with Carlyle Lamb again guiding. When on the summit two of the men produced pistols, probably to help celebrate their mountaineering achievement. Soon after, just as they began their descent, a pistol carried in the pocket of the Stryker boy hit a rock and discharged a bullet through his neck. Lamb hurried for help but the boy bled to death on the Longs Peak summit. A long list of grim accidents in these mountains had begun. And tragedies in such a beautiful natural setting seemed even harder to accept since the people involved were pursuing pleasure. The Welton and Stryker deaths of the 1880s were only precursors of dozens of accidents and deaths befalling vacationers either lulled into carelessness or simply unfamiliar with the strains and hazards of mountain travel.

An 1889 party visiting Sheep Lake displayed the trappings of civilized travel within a panoramic setting of wilderness. (RMNPHC)

But it was not really the growing influx of tourists or the squabble of settlers with the English Earl that became the major event of this era. Instead, perhaps more symbolic of that era of exploitation was the drama of a mining boom played out on the western side of the Continental Divide. Along the headwaters of the Colorado River, in the mountains north and west of Grand Lake, optimistic prospectors, miners, and speculators thought they had discovered an avenue to wealth—a pattern repeated many times in Western American history. Within the scope of Colorado history the brief excitement on the North Fork is barely worth mentioning; by comparison, strikes at Cripple Creek, Central City, or Leadville led to real, sustained wealth. Yet the bare skeletons of ghost towns along the North Fork, especially the log bones of decaying Lulu City, seem to epitomize the Western heritage of mining: hopes and dreams, boom and bust, realities and ruin.

Compared with the changes happening around Estes Park, settlement near Grand Lake had been proceeding at a glacial pace. Indian problems lasting until 1879 helped to discourage permanent settlement. Too many high mountain passes also served to isolate the region, prompting historian Robert Black to term all of Middle Park an "Island in the Rockies." Coming from the east, a road over Rollins Pass was not established until 1873 and became unusable in the wintertime. Although it was located in 1861, Berthoud Pass did not boast a road until 1874, finally providing Middle Park with better connections with Georgetown and civilization. So meanwhile only a handful of hunters, trappers, and prospectors spent much time in the Grand Lake region. A few lonely dreamers struggled with the hope of making Hot Sulphur Springs into a major western spa, but its isolation and the lack of good transportation retarded that scheme.

Hunting for elk rather than for silver or gold seemed to dominate Middle Park life. Ranching appeared to hold the only promise for the future. But all that changed quickly. On July 10th, 1875, prospectors Alexander Campbell and James H. Bourn staked a promising claim and called it the Wolverine. Its ore gave hints of being rich, containing silver, copper, and lead. Word of the strike spread quickly and a rush to the Rabbit Ear Range (today's Never Summer Range) followed.

The Wolverine Mine, like others staked nearby, promised more than it paid. Within a year Campbell and Bourn were forced to sell, still in debt to a Georgetown grocery firm. That proved to be an ominous precedent for a fledgling mining region. But regardless of low-yielding ore, dozens of footloose prospectors invaded the region.

Prospectors saw Colorado's gulches produce gold and its mountains promise a bonanza in mineral wealth. (RMNPHC)

Famed geologist and explorer Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden once noted: "The most successful prospectors are those who know comparatively little about minerals." A simple desire to get rich was more important. "Pluck, perserverance, and a pick are the three requisites to success," he cautiously added, "supplemented by pork and provender." [14] Only later did he admit that considerable knowledge of geology and mineralogy might be helpful. Hayden helpfully listed the steps toward a successful discovery. First the prospector must find the "blossom" which indicates some trace or presence of mineral in the vicinity. Next, he "tries to find out where it comes from." If the blossom rock edges are sharp and defined indicating a recent fracture, then "he is satisfied the vein is near at hand." Finding that vein was the final step. Hayden advised men to hunt patiently, "often for a long time," concluding that they might be better off earning three dollars a day as a miner for a surer livelihood. [15]

Thus the prospector became a familiar figure throughout the Front Range and Never Summer Range for decades to follow. From the upper reaches of the Colorado River clear across the Divide all the way to the slopes of Longs Peak, hardly a promising outcrop of rock was ignored. In his book A Mountain Boyhood, early Estes Park resident Joe Mills described meeting some of these lonely figures. The slopes of Longs Peak, he reported, were "gophered" by these men who believed they saw favorable traces of gold in the rocks. Mills described meeting "Old Mac," a virtual hermit digging at a dozen claims on Longs Peak. After an initial visit in December, Mills returned the following spring to find the man still alone, still digging. "What sort of a winter have you put in?" Mills asked. Old Mac returned a confused glance. "Winter?" he replied. "It's sure settin' in like it meant business. But I'm plannin' to start a tunnel—I got a rich vein I want to uncover—think come spring I'll have her where somebody'll want to build a mill an'—"

"But you told me you were going to Reno," Mills reminded the fellow.

"Yep; I am, come spring," he replied.

A bit surprised, Mills then asked, "Do you know the date?"

Old Mac gave a sheepish look, "No-o-o, don't reckon I do." And after pondering a few minutes he took a guess, "Must be about Christmas, ain't it?"

Mills noted that it was the eighth of May. "Old Mac was a typical prospector," Joe Mills concluded. "They are all queer, picturesque characters, living in a world of golden dreams, oblivious to everything but the hole they are digging, the gold they are sure to find." [16] Loneliness was an occupational expectation; forgetfulness became a real hazard.

Even forgetting the location of a rich specimen of ore apparently happened more than once. Abner Sprague, in an article entitled "Lost Mines," argued that several rich discoveries had been located with prospectors soon forgetting where the outcroppings or veins appeared. Those deposits were never rediscovered. One fellow, combining a hunting trip with prospecting, stuffed his coat with likely samples of ore. Some months later an assayer told him that one rock was extremely rich in gold, "thousands per ton in fact." But the poor man could never remember where he picked up that blossom. For years he continued to return to Glacier Basin hunting for his lost mine. Among other tales Sprague recounted, one even involved the drawing of a map by a prospector convinced of his success yet breathing his last on his death bed; it detailed a supposedly rich strike on Specimen Mountain. That mineral treasure, like other "lost mines," was never found. But they served to excite the imagination. Overall, it is likely that more prospectors got lost than mines. [17]

So throughout the late 1870s prospectors filtered into the mountains, especially into the Rabbit Ear Range. Promising finds of carbonate ore soon brought many claims. The Wolverine Mine led the way for such strikes as the North Star, the Jim Bourn, the Silent Friend, and the Sandy Campbell. Up neighboring mountains, along gulches and creeks, throughout the upper reaches of the North Fork, the prospectors searched. Quickly added were such cleverly named strikes as Miners Dream, the Ruby, the Cleopatra, the Cross, Hidden Treasure, Living Wonder, Wild Irishman, Excelsior, Silver Queen, Eureka, and several dozen others. In an aura of discovery, optimism and dreams of future riches played dominant roles.

A number of North Fork mines were extensively developed during the early 1880s. Even though mineral-bearing ores were found, their low grade quality clouded the boom with a specter of failure. (RMNPHC)

Businessmen in Georgetown and Fort Collins quickly realized that more immediate profits could be made in supplying the new mining region. Improved transportation routes and rudimentary merchandizing followed the miners. Much nearer the center of activity, however, the village of Grand Lake was born. It changed from Judge Wescott's infant resort into a growing village within a few short years. Three hundred and twenty acres were established as a townsite in August of 1879 and by June of 1880 the community could boast thirty-one residents and nine cabins.

Recurrent Indian scares and primitive transportation routes had kept a real boom at bay during the late 1870s. But finally, by 1880, the Utes started leaving and the country seemed safer. One old miner expressed relief: "I am glad to see that the Utes must go, as the rich discoveries now made in our State must, of their natural attractiveness in point of wealth, draw a large and enterprising white population to our State, and drive out the good-for-nothing and unruly savage." [18]

Added to the good news of the Utes' departure was the knowledge that mines in Colorado's Leadville region contained an enormous amount of silver. Starting in 1877, Leadville's boom revived a general interest in mining throughout the state. As one historian noted: "Wherever the ore resembled the Leadville product there was excitement." [19] Some people believed that carbonate ores found in the strikes along the North Fork could rival booming Leadville. Although containing far less silver, copper, or lead than the ores of Leadville, at least the North Fork mineral offered a promise of greatness. Only two problems appeared to loom over the Rabbit Ears district in 1880: most ores were of poor quality; and a reducing mill would be required for the ore, necessitating great capital investment. In those two hard facts were planted the seeds for the boom's bust.

But into the North Fork streamed dozens, even hundreds, of people. Some were prospectors; many were miners; a few were merchants; all were seriously intent on searching for wealth. Among them were a handful of promoters and speculators. Very few were women. All of Grand County showed a population of 417 in 1880 and by 1883 it was estimated that 2,000 people lived there. Most of these people had roots elsewhere and many would move on within a year or two, just as soon as other mining booms appeared more promising. The North Fork boom followed a classic Western pattern and people followed predictable paths as soon as dreams of fortune disappeared.

Fortunes imagined as "A Ton of Pure Silver" vanished as soon as investors decided the North Fork mines were worthless. (RMNPHC)

Some men, such as Edward P. Weber, came as representatives of Illinois capitalists. He helped form the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company. Among other properties in Bowen Gulch, Weber quickly purchased the Wolverine Mine. He became superintendent of those mines and embarked upon an ambitious program to exploit them. He hired Lewis D. C. Gaskill as a foreman. Well known in the region, Gaskill had helped develop the road over Berthoud Pass only a few years earlier. He was a Civil War veteran, a mining engineer and promoter, a surveyor, an accountant, a man of stability and many talents. Such people as Weber and Gaskill represented a serious effort to probe the mineral wealth of one of the North Fork's most promising prospects. Miners were hired and shafts began to penetrate the mountains.

Meanwhile other men came to establish businesses. Just like the merchants settling at Grand Lake, Al G. Warner built a log cabin at the foot of Bowen Gulch and began offering miners provisions and liquor. Farther up the Gulch, nearer some of the high country mines, a spot named Fairfax appeared. It sported only a double log cabin and served as a post office for the miners from June of 1884 until July of 1885.

Businesses in these key locations spawned schemes among promoters about building towns, finding that real estate speculation could sometimes be just as profitable as mining. Men like Weber were soon developing surveys and plats for potential townsites. At the foot of Bowen Gulch, for example, a town named for Gaskill's hometown of Auburn, New York was planned. Ambitiously drawn to contain 161 blocks each divided into 32 lots, Auburn never became more than a rustic enclave in the wilderness, boasting only a few cabins and a post office called Gaskill.

A more dramatic venture at creating a town began some ten miles farther north. There, with Lead Mountain rising in the west and Specimen Mountain towering on the east, Fort Collins promoters William B. Baker and Benjamin Franklin Burnett created Lulu City. In June of 1879 a party of four prospectors from Fort Collins had wandered up the North Fork, hunting as much for mammals as minerals. There they made two claims on Mount Shipler where there appeared to be rich lodes of silver. Upon their return to Fort Collins, news of their silver strikes stirred considerable interest. Parties of other prospectors, with Baker and Burnett among them, went to investigate and make claims of their own. Sometime later that summer plans for Lulu City, located in the midst of mining excitement, started to take shape. At the same time Burnett began to seek capital for mining machinery and for the construction of a smelter. Together with a handful of other pioneer prospectors, Baker and Burnett then organized the Middle Park and Grand River Mining and Land Improvement Company, specifically to form Lulu City.

All the details of Lulu City's three-year boom cannot be recounted here. But even a bare outline may demonstrate that this mining camp bore many characteristics of rapid rise and decline so common to our Western mining frontier. According to some reports, Burnett named this budding city after his daughter, supposedly a beautiful, raven-haired lass; she was "the most beautiful girl I ever saw" according to "Squeaky Bob," a man who visited the camp and later developed a resort in the region. By 1880 Burnett and his Improvement Company had a 160-acre townsite astride the Grand (or Colorado) River surveyed and platted. Their plans for Lulu City included 100 blocks each with 16 lots; it was divided by 19 numbered streets and 4 avenues named Howard, Riverside, Trout, and Lead Mountain.

Life around Lulu City, "The Coming Metropolis of Grand County," became ever more hectic throughout 1880 and 1881. Miners' tents dotted the valley and newly built cabins appeared "with crowds of people and the bustle and bang of hammers and saws." [20] Two hundred men were reported to be prospecting and mining on the slopes nearby. "Miners are busy doing assessment work on their claims," one observer noted. "Blasts can be heard at any time of the day from mines in hearing of Lulu City." [21] By July of 1880 a number of businesses catering to the miners had already taken root. The Burnett brothers ran a butcher shop; a real estate agency and mining exchange appeared, with city lots selling briskly; a hotel, a general store or two, and some forty houses testified to the activity of the construction business. Two saw mills ran day and night. By 1881 a clothing store, a barber shop, an assay office, and several grocery, hardware, and liquor stores supplied miners needs, along with a dairy, offering butter and milk from twenty cows herded in from Denver.

Prospectors proved to be a transient breed, many living in tents while only a few bothered to build cabins. Mining camps such as Lulu City could boast of a population of several hundred people, but none were permanent residents. (RMNPHC)

"There is level land for a population of from 3,000 to 5,000 people," read a booster's report, in case anyone was worried that Lulu City was filling up too quickly. But all the businesses and business of town-building seemed to overshadow the produce of the mines. "The great need of Lulu to-day," noted the Fort Collins Express of July 1881, "is men with enough money to dig down in the ground; men with enough money to go there and work a year or perhaps two years, need not, I think, be afraid of the result. [22] Getting men to invest either time or money, however, proved far more difficult than writing optimistic reports.

If a person actually believed every newspaper story about Lulu City or the future prospects of the rest of the North Fork mining regions during the 1880s, a tale of its rapid decline would seem shocking. Nearly every report offered promises of "immense richness" and a booming future, if not at Luly City then at Gaskill. A report from the Wolverine, a bellwether mine, in April of 1880 assued 350 ounces of pure silver and $40 worth of gold per ton of ore. Many other mines offered accounts noting similar yields. Evidence of wealth seemed to insure continued development of both the Campbell Mining District around Bowen Gulch and the Lead Mountain Mining District around Luly City.

To miners, isolation was only a minor problem soon to be overcome; it was expected that new roads soon would be built. A road north from Grand Lake through Luly City and on to the mining camps of North Fork was projected, and in fact commerce came in 1880 from a toll road built by S. B. Stewart linking Luly City with Fort Collins by way of Teller City in North Park and the Cache la Poudre route. Later, Lulu City boasted three stagecoaches per week coming from the distant plains and two per week from Grand Lake. Georgetown and Fort Collins merchants both vied for the North Park trade, and wagons filled with supplies rumbled toward Lulu. City lots continued to sell at between twenty and fifty dollars each. There was even talk of building railroads into the area.

Wintertime came with a force strong enough to curb the boom's momentum. Travel nearly stopped. Many miners, seeking warmer climes, deserted their claims. Roads and trails soon became impassible and the region's isolation increased. Among all the strikes, only ten mines were active during the winter of 1881-1882. Work slowed in even the richest claims such as the Tiger, owned by pioneer Joseph L. Shipler. Only in the Eureka, the Bonanza, "which turns out some of the finest looking ore in Colorado," in the Godsmark brothers' Triumph, and in a handful of others did miners keep busy during those months of loneliness, blizzard, frost, and avalanche. [23] Mines worth all that trouble, toil, and sweat were eventually supposed to satisfy everyone with a decent yield. Certainly then Grand County would prove itself rich to those "who never believed there was anything here but Utes, a few damphools and jack rabbits." [24]

Ore began piling up at the mouths of many mines. Mine owners could not make a profit on low yielding ores if they had to transport tons of rock sixty miles or more to the nearest concentrating mill. All the optimistic talk about silver, lead, copper, and gold, carbonates and sulphurates, millions of dollars in hidden mineral wealth, all centered on those growing piles heaped near the mines. At one point the Wolverine miners claimed to have a thousand tons ready for processing. But building a smelter cost too much and investors were in short supply. For a while, miners kept on blasting and digging. They were not easily discouraged and were convinced a concentrator was coming.

The summer of 1882 saw the boom continue, but by the end of the season people admitted that little profit would ever be seen unless a smelter was built. "The long-looked-for and many-times-promised smelter," one caustic writer noted, had not been built that year and put a real "damper" on further mining in the region. Then, in April of 1883, the famed Wolverine mine was shut down and its crew of miners laid off. Enough ore sat waiting, but some people believed that E. P. Weber and his company closed their mine merely to trigger a depression in local mine values. Some thought that the company planned to acquire more mines before building the smelter. Ore of low quality, however, was really the basic issue. And it is quite likely that Chicago investors finally tired of pouring cash down ill-producing holes. Regardless of whether work on the Wolverine stopped, smaller mining operations continued during 1883. When winter arrived once again, the mines were abandoned. By December of 1883 Lulu City finally lost its mainstay, J. R. Godsmark, who left to winter at Grand Lake. The boom had ended and Lulu City began to decay.

In the decades following Lulu City's decline, only crumbling cabins remained as evidence of the North Fork boom. (RMNPHC)

For a few years it looked like the boom would simply shift else where in the North Fork. Sometime in the early 1880s, for example, Lulu City spawned yet another mining camp called Dutchtown. But Dutchtown, located at timberline high on the flanks of Lead and Cirrus mountains, hardly sat in an ideal site for expansion. It merely served as home for a number of former Lulu City residents no longer welcome there because of an evening's drunken brawl. "Some of the more peaceful citizens of Lulu City were pretty badly damaged," read one account, "including one woman who came out of the fracas with a broken arm, one man with several broken ribs, and one fellow lost an eye." [25] Dutchtown owed its existence to a handful of miners sentenced by brute force into exile. These unruly miners stuck with their Dutchtown camp through 1884 and then their cabins too were vacated.

The settlement of Grand Lake prospered during the mining era as the village catered to miners' needs, especially in the form of rest and recreation. (Colorado Historical Society)

The tiny settlement of Gaskill, close to Bowen Gulch, and the Wolverine Mine held on for a year or two longer than Lulu City. Boosters argued that this was the spot that would keep on growing, although its population never exceeded fifty. Some of Lulu's businessmen settled there, but most left after a year or two. Gaskill faded as hope for a smelter disappeared and as work on the mines finally stopped. By late 1886, Gaskill joined Fairfax, Dutchtown, and Lulu City as a site of abandoned mines, rotting cabins, and faded dreams.

One town not fading from the map was Grand Lake. The mining boom helped make it a supply center as well as a transportation link to Georgetown. It also gained status as a recreation site for men grown weary of work in the mines. Fishing, boating, and swimming entertained the miners by day; dinners, dancing, and drinking entertained them by night. According to historian Robert Black, a number of hostelries appeared in the early 1880s. Foremost among them were The Grand Lake House, offering "Spring Beds, Mattresses and Everything," as well as The Garrison House and The Fairview House. [26] Grand Lake grew in population and in popularity; its citizens numbered 31 in 1880 and had increased to some 300 by 1883. Catering to both the miners and its own growing population, a variety of businesses took permanent root.

Mining activity brought prosperity to Grand Lake, but prosperity produced a touch of haughtiness. Those living around Grand Lake argued that their new town, growing rapidly and seen as the center of excitement, should also become the county seat. For them, Hot Sulphur Springs lay too far west, too distant from the growing population of the North Fork or North Park mines. In 1880 petitioners requested an election on the issue and the November results showed 83 votes for keeping Hot Sulphur Springs as the county seat and 114 in favor of growing Grand Lake. These election results were immediately disputed, fostering bitterness that went went well beyond the scope of a friendly rivalry. Political squabbling continued over the next several years, eventually culminating in one of Grand Lake's most infamous and tragic events: the shoot-out of July 4th, 1883.

Grand Lake's jaunty western image was tarnished by the Fourth of July shoot-out and by the failing North Fork mining district. (RMNPHC)

The bloody incident at Grand Lake hardly fits any Hollywood script of classic gunplay between good guys and bad. It resulted from a web of discord too complex, too enmeshed in personalities and political infighting, too entangled in years of feuding and bitterness to satisfy our perceptions of a classic, western shoot out. Many of the facts surrounding the incident remain debatable, so a bare outline must suffice. On the morning of July 4th, shortly after eight-thirty, Edward P. Weber, superintendent of the Wolverine Mine and a county commissioner, set out walking from The Fairview House with two associates, fellow commissioner Barney Day and Captain Dean, the county clerk. The three strolled along the west shore of Grand Lake heading for town. When only a few minutes away from the hotel, they heard the report of a rifle. Weber cried, "Oh! I am shot!" Day and Dean immediately caught hold of Weber, assisting him as he fell to the ground. Just then several masked men jumped from their hiding spots in a nearby clump of trees, unleashing a hail of bullets at Day and Dean. Barney Day was hit but he pulled his revolver, shot and killed one of the assailants at close range, a fellow wearing a cloth mask with holes cut for mouth and eyes. Then he wounded another attacker before falling dead himself. Quickly the ambushers withdrew, heading through the woods where horses had been tied, and made their escape. [27]

Some folks thought the gunshots were merely part of the local Fourth of July celebration, fireworks and shooting being commonly heard. The reality of a deadly shoot-out came, however, as people saw Weber groping his way back toward The Fairview House. Only then did people rush to the scene. There Barney Day was found dead. Captain Dean, like Weber, had been mortally wounded. They unmasked the dead assailant and found it was John G. Mills, a Teller City attorney and the leader of a political clique opposed to Weber. Later, someone recalled Mills saying, "We are going to give Weber a little scare and scare him so good he will have to get out of Grand County for good and never come back!" [28] Only much later did the mystery of Mills's colleagues in crime become evident, although the exact number has always been in dispute. Some have argued that Mills had eight associates; others claimed that only two or three helped with the killings. Charles Royer, a much admired sheriff, and William Redman, his Grand Lake deputy, were both implicated. Redman simply disappeared. Royer turned up in Hot Sulphur Springs later that same day, his horse well lathered. In the days that followed, Royer faced the obvious questions about his behavior. Only seventeen days after the ambush, the Georgetown Colorado Miner carried the headline, "More Blood: Charley Royer Blows His Brains Out In Georgetown. . ." [29] Royer had committed suicide, apparently after telling a friend that he could not live with a murder on his conscience. The elusive William Redman was finally found murdered in October, at least according to one report, after being tracked by a relentless killer. That death brought the bloody toll in Grand Lake's shoot-out to six—three county commissioners, a county clerk, a sheriff, and a deputy.

Because of the shoot-out, Grand Lake's reputation suffered a setback. Violence and gore proved to be poor advertising for a brand new town. "For a decade," wrote local historian Nell Pauly, "Grand Lake tried to recover from the embarrassing damage caused by this tragic occurrence which was not the fault of any of its inhabitants." [30] Political bloodshed combined with poorly producing mines in the North Fork helped to curb Grand Lake's boom. Growth tapered off. By 1886 almost all mining in the North Fork had stopped. Gaskill and the other camps were abandoned; the miners moved elsewhere. A declining, shifting population also meant that the contested county seat was removed from Grand Lake and returned to Hot Sulphur Springs in 1888—and without a fight. Life around Grand Lake quieted down. Catering to fisher men and summer visitors rather than to miners became its major prospect for the future.

By the 1890s, Abner Sprague and his wife Alberta understood that their Moraine Park ranch displayed promise as a resort as more people came to visit. (RMNPHC)

Over on the other side of the mountains, the 1880s saw Abner Sprague developing his ranch in Moraine Park. Like his contemporaries, however, he had also been bitten by the prospecting bug. He told of meeting men such as M. B. V. Gillette and John Baker as they returned from Lead Mountain filled with stories of newly discovered mineral wealth. He decided to join them when they headed back for the North Fork. Always afoot, he had to trudge for miles. He told of being forced to camp in a snowbank on Trail Ridge for two days as a blizzard swept across; he described making snowshoes out of pine. He carried forty-pound packs, killed mountain sheep for food and suffered severe snow blindness. Yet all his pains seemed to pay when he finally located a promising ledge of mineral. Only a short time later his claim was jumped by two rough characters, but Sprague and his partner were successful in defending their rights, armed only with geologists' hammers. Later, offering a share in the mine, Sprague hired a miner to dig a 100-foot tunnel to test the claim. "There was too much rock and not enough mineral," he concluded. [31] "All hopes of a fortune were soon dispelled." [32]

Until his death in 1943, Abner Sprague remained one of Estes Park's pioneers, both in terms of ranching and the resort industry. (RMNPHC)

Like other disappointed prospectors Sprague returned home, accepting life without quick riches. His Moraine Park ranch gradually proved to be more profitable as it catered to summer visitors. Eventually its thousand acres became one of the best-known guest ranches in the central Rockies. In 1904 Abner Sprague sold his Moraine Park homestead to J. D. Stead. Sprague then developed a smaller resort in Glacier Basin and remained a pioneer in both ranching and the resort industry. Sprague took pride in the progress of the area as a popular resort; in the 1930s he considered it an honor to be one of the first to purchase an entrance permit for Rocky Mountain National Park. In 1936 Sprague's old homestead was sold to Will and Myra Lewis and in 1950 Edgar and Dorothy Stopher took over the ranch. In 1962 the National Park Service acquired the land. Eventually, all the buildings were destroyed and Abner Sprague's Moraine Park ranch land was returned to the way he first found it. Once Sprague's generation disappeared, most dreams with silver lining went with them.


Rocky Mountain National Park: A History
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