Rocky Mountain National Park
A History
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Chapter 5:

"From the wilderness the traveler returns a man, almost a superman.
Enos Mills, in
Your National Parks (1917) [1]

THE DAY marked a milestone. Some two or three hundred people gathered in Horseshoe Park to celebrate. There a panorama of spectacular mountain scenery provided photographers with a dramatic backdrop as they recorded the occasion. Automobiles, horseback riders, and a motorcycle or two formed a haphazard circle around the crowd. Above them fluttered a banner reading "ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK—DEDICATION, SEP. 4, 1915." People stood ready to hear a handful of dignitaries offer appropriate remarks. Men from Washington, D.C. mingled with state officials, testifying that another slice of Colorado now deserved greater national attention. Five-minute speeches from each official kept the ceremony brief; people applauded; everyone sang the national anthem; photographers snapped their shutters. Cameras caught the bewhiskered F. O. Stanley, inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile and a leading Estes Park citizen, as he gallantly posed with a tiny American flag. Seen next to Stanley was the man serving as master of ceremonies that day: Enos Abijah Mills. Mills wore a serious expression, seemingly unable to crack a smile. Perhaps his solemn demeanor betrayed the hard work that led to that moment. For years he had been at the center of the fight to create Rocky Mountain National Park; he had written more than 2,000 letters and given 42 lectures promoting the park idea; he had provided 430 photographs and penned 64 newspaper and magazine articles, all to promote the cause. Somber as he looked, Mills must have relished his victory. But that day was more than a personal triumph. For in dedicating a park to future generations, that crowd of people really marked the end to an era of pioneering.

With a somber expression bare-headed Enos Mills stands beside the successful entrepreneur of Estes Park, F. O. Stanley (holding flag). Joining them at the September 4, 1915 dedication ceremony for Rocky Mountain National Park were national park publicist Robert Sterling Yard (next to Mills), Congressman Ed Taylor (next to Stanley), Mrs. John D. Sherman of the National Federation of Women's Clubs, and Governor George Carlson. (RMNPHC)

Enos Mills and his generation had watched the frontier pass away. Before their eyes the West changed from being truly wild to a reasonably civilized condition. Mills could stand there on that September day in 1915 and look back over thirty years' experience in these mountains. During the 1880s he had lived in its raw wilderness. By 1915 wilderness had become something to cherish rather than conquer. And like the West, thirty years' time had changed Mills too. n both Enos Mills and in Colorado, ideas leading toward preservation developed slowly.

The 1880s taught men that mineral wealth had to be found elsewhere. In that regard the mountains from Longs Peak to the Never Summer Range proved to be poor. A few people still believed that cattle raising could be profitable, but more serious stockmen used the expansive Great Plains and not restrictive mountain parks. Certainly timber could be harvested, but mines and boom towns had failed and most lumbermen moved their sawmills closer to their markets. Hunting became ever more difficult as bear and elk started to become scarce. Only people seeking the pleasures of summer pastimes appeared to be encouraged by what they discovered. Fishermen, mountain climbers, and other summer visitors continued to invade the Estes Park and Grand Lake regions, returning each season in increasing numbers and with increasing regularity. Summer cabins and camps had become commonplace by the Gay Nineties.

For nearly a decade, Eros Mills had acted much like the rest of those summertime visitors. He was born near Fort Scott, Kansas on April 22nd, 1870, the son of a farmer. Ill health plagued him as a child and any future as a farmer became unrealistic. He needed a healthier climate. His parents had been to Colorado before, joining the gold rush in 1859, only to return to Kansas. But apparently they remembered the beautiful mountain scenery and the healthful mountain air. They encouraged young Enos to strike westward on his own in 1884. So the fourteen-year-old Mills visited Fort Collins, found work on a ranch, and, later that summer, helped trail a herd of cattle to the very base of Longs Peak for Carlyle Lamb. The Rocky Mountains quickly captured Enos Mills's attention.

He soon found employment that allowed him to stay in the area, working at the Elkhorn Lodge run by W. E. James. Wintertime forced him to leave Estes Park, however, and he found work as a cowboy out on the plains. In 1885 he returned and began helping around Lamb's Ranch as Carlyle Lamb catered to people intent upon climbing Longs Peak. Like others enchanted by this region's beauty, Mills decided almost immediately that he wanted to own some land and build a cabin. He spotted a site across Tahosa Creek from Lamb's Ranch, claimed it, and started constructing what he called his "Homestead Cabin." At about the same time, Carlyle Lamb introduced him to Longs Peak. That summer Mills made his first climb. The impression of that ascent was indelible. Over the years he would repeat that ascent over 250 times. Watching Carlyle Lamb must also have made him consider a career as a climbing guide. Over the next few summers, Mills completed his log cabin and began working as a guide for the Lambs. Each winter he would wander, earning money as a cowboy or even as a miner. Like other westerners of his time, Enos Mills "was a curious mixture of the wanderer and the home-lover." [2] His roaming eventually took him to Butte, Montana, a booming mining center of that era. There, during the late 1880s and throughout the 1890s, mining became his trade. Summers he guided tourists; winters found him working for good wages deep in the Montana mines.

A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Enos Abijah Mills first came to Estes Park at the age of fourteen. He fell in love with the Longs Peak area, later acquired land there, and eventually became a major spokesman advocating the preservation of the region. (RMNPHC)

Just like the pioneers before him, Enos Mills's initial reaction to this country was to possess it, to use it, to build a cabin, and to own it. In fulfilling that desire, Mills was typical of his era. In fact, the 1890s saw many men looking at Colorado's mountains not for their scenic value, but for their practical use. It was a time when the resources of the West faced full exploitation. Farmers living out on the parched plains east of the Rockies eyed the snowy summits, seeing not only dramatic vistas but water waiting to melt. Their soil was rich, but their prairie was dry, averaging only fifteen inches of rainfall or less each year. Projects to store or divert water for irrigation began with the farmers who followed the Fifty Niners. The only force fighting the farmers was gravity. Nature inclined much of that Rocky Mountain water to flow westward; it was lost to farmers around Fort Collins, Greeley, and a dozen other communities where agriculture had prospered with irrigation. All along the Front Range reservoirs and canals were constructed. Dams and diversion projects directed the water more where men needed it than where nature intended it to flow.

Surveyors followed the contours of western slope mountains, charting the course canals or ditches would run as they diverted streams and melting snow into eastern drainages. (RMNPHC)

Building the Grand Ditch reflected this effort to divert water for agriculture. According to historian D. Ferrel Atkins, this project was one of the largest of all the early engineering efforts to divert water from the western slope and send it eastward. La Poudre Pass in the northwest corner of today's Park at an elevation of 10,175 feet above sea level was seen as a perfect focal point for diversion canals. According to the plan, water from melting snow could be caught in ditches carved along the contour of the mountainsides. Those canals could be angled slightly downward toward La Poudre Pass. Once those canals emptied their liquid cargo into Long Draw Creek, the eastern flow of the Cache la Poudre River would do the rest. With that basic plan in mind, the Larimer County Ditch Company was formed in 1881. Work got underway and on October 15, 1890 the first diverted water moved across La Poudre Pass heading east.

Progress on extending the Grand Ditch proceeded slowly, while the number of farms increased and the demand for irrigation water grew more intense. The 1890s saw increased efforts by a number of companies to compete with the Larimer County Ditch Company. For a few years, competing survey crews worked across the slopes to the south of La Poudre Pass and a "water war" seemed to be in the offing. But ultimately the Water Supply and Storage Company of Fort Collins, the successor to the Larimer County Ditch Company, gained ownership and construction rights. Efforts to extend the Grand Ditch began in earnest. Slowly its earthen canal, some twenty feet wide and six feet deep, snaked outward from La Poudre Pass along the contours of the eastern flank of the Never Summer Range. A second and shorter canal called Specimen Ditch captured water along the northwestern side of Specimen Mountain.

Below: Gangs of workers using picks and shovels built mile after mile of the Grand Ditch, a diversion project that eventually spanned 14.3 miles in length. The Grand Ditch was just one of many such water conservation projects developed throughout these mountains. (RMNPHC)

Building and extending the Grand Ditch became the main effort. Each summer season from 1894 onward men cut into the slopes with picks and shovels and moved rocks and dirt with wheelbar rows. Several construction or "ditch" camps were built at spots beside the canal. Teams of Japanese workers were employed, hiring on as "companies" rather than as individuals. Similarly, other companies of ditch diggers were also hired, ready to perform this rigorous labor. The willingness of these people to live and work in such an isolated region and the primitive nature of their shelter and food helped set them apart from other workers. Toil at elevations above ten thousand feet above sea level also set the whole project apart from normal construction efforts.

Running like a scar across the Never Summer Range, the Grand Ditch demonstrated the urgent need for irrigation water on Colorado's arid eastern plains. (RMNPHC)

Across the slopes above decaying Lulu City came this growing furrow marking man's newer demands upon nature. Gradually the crews worked their way westward to Bennett Creek, then past Lady Creek, on to Lulu Creek, beyond Sawmill Creek, to Little Dutch Creek and Middle Dutch Creek. The Grand Ditch captured more water each year. By 1904 Big Dutch Creek had been reached. By 1911 Lost Creek, Mosquito Creek, and Opposition Creek were all included. Then for a few years work was intermittent or merely maintenance. It was not until September of 1936 that machinery helped complete the 14.3-mile canal ending at Baker Creek.

Visually, the Grand Ditch made a 14.3-mile scar while the Specimen Ditch was largely concealed from public view. Although both projects "stole" water from the Grand (later Colorado) River, demands for water simply outweighed any concern about unsightliness or the disruption of natural watercourses. Future problems caused by dumping water into unnatural drainages, erosion, scarring, landsliding, seepages, and other damages created by such an ambitious project were largely ignored until the 1960s, when critics began expressing concern. Clearly, aesthetics were less important than water in the 1890s. Getting water for farms meant that nature must yield. Water remained something to be diverted, dammed, stored, sold, and used. The mountains could not escape being surrounded by arid land and ambitious men who intended to make that land produce. For these mountains, the Grand and Specimen ditches merely marked the beginning of water projects.

While Enos Mills, Carlyle Lamb, and a few other landowners eked out a living, they began to see the mountains a bit differently than the ditch diggers. Meeting people bent on recreation taught these pioneers a basic lesson: the mountains also produced pleasure. One of the people Mills and Lamb met during the late 1880s was Frederick H. Chapin of Hartford, Connecticut. He was a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and he had already climbed in Europe. While certainly not the first mountain climber to enter the Rocky Mountain National Park region, he was an effective writer and a popularizer. Tales of his climbs up Longs Peak, Mummy Mountain, and Ypsilon appeared in Appalachia, a journal of the Appalachian Club. A well-known national magazine, Scribner's, also published Chapin's accounts. His book, Mountaineering in Colorado. was published in 1889 and began to turn the attention of other mountain climbers and sportsmen toward the Rockies. His photographs, adventures, portraits of wildlife, glaciers, flowers, and natural grandeur, all made the Rocky Mountains rival the Alps of Switzerland. His criticism that "the first difficulty which presents itself to the mountaineer in Colorado is the lack of guides" must have been heard by Enos Mills, then in his late teens. [3] Though Chapin could kill a bear just for fun or shoot seven ptarmigan while descending Mummy Mountain, he could also wax ecstatic about the sights seen from summits or the "dancing flames" of a campfire. Chapin brought an attitude of enjoyment without possession, a simple sense of appreciation. Chapin and visitors like him may have sparked a sense of aesthetics in people such as Lamb and Mills. At the very least, the sport of mountaineering had officially arrived. "The lover of high mountain ascents finds a good field for novel expeditions throughout the range," Chapin concluded, and people came to follow his lead. [4]

While Chapin climbed, Lamb catered, and Enos Mills completed his cabin and pondered Longs Peak, greater forces were in motion well beyond the horizon of Estes Park or Grand Lake. The idea of conservation began to take shape, nearly ready to invade the region and alter its future. By the 1890s Americans realized that a line of frontier settlement could no longer be drawn on a map: our pioneering population had finally scattered all the way across the country. Formerly considered limitless, land itself gradually seemed more precious. Forests, minerals, grazing land, and water could no longer be considered abundant, free for the taking. Years of advancing into the wild West, years of homesteading and conquering the wilderness were ending. Giving people easy access to timber, wildlife, water, and other resources in the public domain came to be questioned. Laws regulating the use of public lands had to be refined. Many practices common to frontier life were now defined as abuses. People realized that lumbermen stole timber from land they never owned; forests had been recklessly cut from Maine to California; reforestation hardly existed; stockmen ruined the range, herding too many cattle upon it; rampant logging brought erosion and flooding; forest fires raged unchecked; miners dumped tailings helter skelter. Following an era of exploitation, a few people reacted, perhaps as a national conscience, expressing concern for the future of the land.

People seeking pleasure or a respite from economic pursuits and daily toil discovered sport and adventure in the mountains. (RMNPHC)

Earlier naturalists and philosophers offered plenty of intellectual leadership for developing an attitude of land protection. Men such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson were often quoted as leaders of this new consciousness. "Nowadays," Thoreau had written in his essay "Walking," "almost all of man's improvements, so called, as the building of houses and the cutting down of the forest and of all large trees, simply deform the landscape, and make it more tame and cheap." [5] Nature had a champion. Emerson suggested that rather than simply chop and saw, people should study and enjoy the forest. "Here is sanctity," he wrote in "Nature," which shames our own religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men who come to her." [6]

Natural resources seemed unlimited to most people in the nineteenth century. Only a handful of visionaries urged conservation when abundance ruled the day. (RMNPHC)

A bevy of similar advocates followed Thoreau and Emerson. Concerned spokesmen such as John Muir of Yosemite, Interior Secretary Carl Schurz, forester Franklin B. Hough, naturalist John Burroughs, and President Theodore Roosevelt all helped draw national attention to the need for better management of the nation's natural bounty. Later these proponents of wise management were termed "conservationists" and called for a much sounder, careful management of public lands. For example, efforts to regulate hunting and fishing through limits, laws, and licenses were initiated in many states. An honest concern about rapidly disappearing forests and endangered watersheds led to the establishment of the American Forestry Association in 1875. That generation also saw efforts at preservation, with unique natural spots such as Yosemite Valley granted protection in 1864 and Yellowstone National Park set aside from settlement in 1872. Conservationists began to urge that dozens of other natural features be protected, suggesting sites as diverse as Niagara Falls and Mount Rainier. Congress, however, acted with random wisdom. Public pressure took time to build. In 1881 a Division of Forestry finally appeared in the Department of Agriculture and in 1886 Congress finally granted it ten thousand dollars to help curb forestry abuses.

On March 3rd, 1891, Congress passed one of its many bills attempting to revise and reform land laws. Somewhat more by fluke than foresight, that bill contained a minor section allowing the president to "set apart and reserve . . . public land bearing forests . . . ." Conservationists had lobbied hard for a power to "reserve" certain lands with the idea of protecting them. Influenced by an attitude of urgency, President Benjamin Harrison wasted no time; he set aside the Yellowstone Forest Reserve in Wyoming on March 30th, 1891. The tempo of conservation increased. By 1892, a total of 15 reserves protected some 13 million acres of forest, at least on paper. [7] Four of those reserves were in Colorado, with the White River Plateau Forest Reserve being created first on October 16th, 1891. Eventually the Estes Park and Grand Lake regions caught the attention of conservationists. On May 17th, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt extended Wyoming's Medicine Bow Forest Reserve southward into Colorado, a reserve that included the land of today's Rocky Mountain National Park. In July of 1910 that section of the Medicine Bow Reserve in Colorado became the Colorado National Forest. Later, in 1932, it was renamed the Roosevelt National Forest. But names, boundaries, and legislative protection meant little until 1897 when Congress finally appropriated $75,000 for administration of these forests by a Forest Reserve Service. Rangers began their patrols, but they had no police power; rules and regulations to stimulate a climate of conservation had a force of law, but they were rarely enforced. During the 1890s many westerners could be described as "wholly antagonistic" to the entire idea of reserves. And the people of Colorado were no exception.

As historian G. Michael McCarthy demonstrates in Hour of Trial, conservation in Colorado proved to be somewhat controversial between 1891 and 1907. As long as forest regulations went unenforced, the temper of protest remained in check. But after 1897, with the congressional appropriation funding enforcement, with rangers patrolling the lands, with stockmen finally required to obtain permits to graze their cattle on public land, with lumbermen and miners facing restrictions, only then did protests against the Forest Reserves grow louder. McCarthy offers a typical example of this early backlash with the remarks of spokesman H. H. Eddy in 1892. "The aesthetic Eastern people [who] are not interested in the country," Eddy argued, "will plaster the West with reservations that will retard and cripple the hardy pioneers." [8]

The idea of conservation hardly appealed to hardy pioneers busy extracting their livelihood from the soil or from grazing land. Similarly, hunters, loggers, and miners believed the government was interfering with their right to nature's bounty. (RMNPHC)

In the minds of many westerners, conservation and forest reserves meant locking away any chance for economic growth. Settlers and miners saw free use of timber and water as essential to their lives. For decades it seemed the government encouraged people to come West, to settle and develop the land. Now it appeared as if the government had shut the door, putting resources they needed out of reach. Yet forest reserve policies, issued in 1897, looked quite reasonable. Prospecting and mining were allowed to continue; water for irrigation and other useful purposes could still be taken; livestock could still graze upon forest land, although permits were required and sheep were forbidden; and timber could be cut. The goals were simple: end destructive abuses and stop waste. But it was not a more lenient set of rules that Westerners demanded, they wanted freedom from all regulation. Arriving rangers symbolized interference.

Regardless of objections, the forces of conservation grew stronger. Even in Colorado some agreed that the Federal Government had to assume control. "I think," said William N. Byers of the Colorado State Forestry Association, "that the general government is the only authority that can protect the public forests." [9] Similarly, Enos Mills's interest in conservation started to develop in the late 1880s with his ascent of Longs Peak. According to his biographer, he also spent long winter hours in the library at Butte, satisfying a growing appetite for natural history and the literature of travel. The works of Dickens, Parkman, Huxley, Darwin, Spencer, and Ingersoll all cultivated his interest in popular scientific and philosophic notions. But even more important to his development was his enthusiasm for travel. A fire in the Butte mines in 1889 set him free to explore sections of the West he had not seen before. During a trip to California he met John Muir. This well-known naturalist and preservationist deeply impressed Mills, motivating him to become a spokesman for conservation. "You must tell them," Muir was quoted as directing the twenty-year-old Mills, "tell them that we are cutting down and burning up the forests of the West so fast that we'll lay this continent as waste as China, in a few generations." [10] Within only two years, Mills attempted his first public speech on forestry, later admitting that the results were premature and dismal.

Mills continued to roam about the country, exploring the Sierras, Yosemite Valley, Death Valley, and other sites in California. In 1890 Mills returned to California to enter a business school, expecting to use knowledge of bookkeeping and accounting for a career in mining. The lure of the outdoors and wanderlust proved stronger. Over the next decade he took extended trips to Yellowstone, to Alaska, down the Mississippi, eventually exploring every state in the Union. In 1900 he visited Europe. Even though he traveled widely, each summer found him guiding on Longs Peak. Answering questions from curious climbers helped hone his skills as both a speaker and a naturalist. Gradually his travels, his reading, and his experience with people combined to make him effective and popular both as a guide and later as a spokesman for conservation. At the same time he began writing articles about the Estes Park region for the Denver newspapers. Working winters in the mines merely provided him the means to travel; mining was not his career. Beavers and bears, forests and flowers, interpreting the scenes of nature and describing his own adventures occupied his thoughts more than the mines.

But conservationists such as Enos Mills could not take all the credit for changing the way Americans viewed their land. As the nation's middle class grew ever larger and demanding of leisure time, the concept of the vacation crept into American life. Previously, only the very wealthy could afford extended time at play; vacations were hardly a regular experience for most people. But increasing prosperity combined with a growing rail network made remote, scenic areas such as the Rockies accessible to those of even the most modest means. And, once experienced, the cool, dry climate of Colorado's mountains became addictive for Americans seeking refuge from the hot summers of the East and Midwest.

As in the past, Colorado's established and more fashionable resorts catered to these new seasonal vacationers. Places such as Colorado Springs had long cultivated a reputation for being accessible and affording stylish comfort. Somewhat more difficult to reach in the 1890s, Grand Lake and Estes Park started to attract fun seekers in the same way. The Kaufman House, built at Grand Lake in 1892, matched the Grand Lake House, the Fairview House, and the Garrison House in supplying summertime accommodations, along with a growing number of small cabins. Up along the North Fork, Robert L. Wheeler, or "Squeaky Bob," established one of the first dude ranches in that region. Called Camp Wheeler or "Hotel de Hardscrabble," Wheeler's ranch opened in 1907. Although often described as primitive, resorts such as Camp Wheeler proved more than sufficient for visitors in a holiday mood. The atmosphere was perhaps exemplified by signs on Squeaky Bob's cabins that read, "Blow your nose and clean your shoes. Use all the grub you need and leave things as you find them." Dudes spending days on horseback hardly ever complained of crude food or lumpy beds. Resort owners with a sense of humor helped make vacations memorable. According to historian Lloyd Musselman, Squeaky Bob ran a camp more memorable than most; he was notorious for not changing the sheets on his beds, merely scenting them with talcum powder. [11]

Around Estes Park ranches, guides, and hotels all catered to the turn-of-the-century surge westward. Small rental cabins began to dot the landscape. More resorts appeared: in 1902 the Wind River Lodge was opened, soon followed by the Horseshoe Inn and the Timberline in 1908, Moraine Lodge in 1910, and the Brinwood in 1911. In 1910 the Western Conference of the Y.M.C.A. acquired the Wind River Lodge and began an extensive development on its adjacent grounds.

Along with these developing resorts, private summer cabins appeared in greater numbers. Numerous families became seasonal residents spending each summer of their lives in the Estes Park region, generation after generation. One example of these long-term summertime vacationers was the family of William Allen White. Late in the 1880s, White spent most of one summer with some of his Kansas college chums exploring the region from the doorstep of a rented cabin on the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park. Memories of those good times drew him back. In 1893 he returned to Moraine Park with his bride to spend his honeymoon. Later that decade his wife's health dictated that they escape the summer heat of Emporia, Kansas where White served as editor and publisher of the Emporia Gazette. They spent many summers in the Colorado Springs area, the hours of leisure allowing White to engage in numerous writing projects. In June of 1911, the Whites decided to rent a cottage in the Estes Park region. "I set up a tent a hundred feet up the hill," White wrote in his Autobiography, "put my cot and typewriter there, and every morning after breakfast went up to write." The result was his second novel, entitled In the Heart of a Fool. Of his 1911 experience, he concluded: "It was a summer of pure delight." [12] As a vacationer turned resident, in 1912 he purchased a summer hideaway perched at the eastern end of Moraine Park. For around three thousand dollars he acquired a main cabin built in 1887 and another that had been added about 1900 as well as two additional "bedroom" cabins. There the Whites, their relatives and friends, spent many pleasant summers. Among their neighbors were university professors and Kansas political leaders, adding an element of suitable intellectual companionship.

Fishing always ranked high on everyone's list of enjoyable Rocky Mountain sports. (RMNPHC)

In this atmosphere of leisure, conversation, and creativity, with the tonic of mountain air and scenes of natural beauty, White was able to cultivate his passion for politics and his talent for writing. Over the years White's editorials gained national fame. He reflected the thinking of small-town America, of people on Main Street. Gradually his conservative opinions of the 1890s became more progressive, influenced by close contact with men like Theodore Roosevelt. White's many articles appeared in national magazines, carrying his influence across the country and earning him a reputation as "The Sage of Emporia." As an articulate and well-informed editor, leading political figures of the day visited White, both in Emporia and in Estes Park, eager to discuss his views on vital issues. Over the years he produced dozens of editorials, articles, and short stories as well as several novels, biographies of Presidents Wilson and Coolidge, and an autobiography. His writing won him two Pulitzer Prizes. At the time of his death in 1944 he had earned a reputation as a national spokesman for common sense. Just like White's Moraine Park place, dozens of similar cabins appeared in Estes Park around the turn of the century. These vacation homes served to give people a different perspective, a place to think and relax, and a place with a touch of solitude.

Summertime residents such as White and the growing number of his fellow vacationers helped hasten the birth of the village of Estes Park. Visitors needed supplies and hardly a store existed. Only John T. Cleave sold a few provisions. This honest and eccentric Englishman held a 160-acre homestead at the junction of the Big Thompson and Fall rivers. Some years earlier Cleave obtained that property from the Earl of Dunraven, opened a store, sold a few goods, and acted as postmaster for the area. The central location of his land made the site quite natural for a town. In August of 1905, Cornelius H. Bond, formerly of Loveland, organized the Estes Park Town Company along with four associates. The Company bought Cleave's land for $8,000. Bond and his Company then hired Abner Sprague to survey the property. The resulting lots were sold, with a twenty-five-foot frontage on Elkhorn Avenue selling for fifty dollars while less desirable lots a bit further east sold for thirty-five dollars. Businesses took root almost overnight. Although it was not officially incorporated until 1917, the village of Estes Park began to grow. Enterprises boasting "Everything for the Tourist" started to appear. According to historian June Carothers, general stores, photography shops, a laundry, a stage station, the Hupp Hotel with "twenty-three rooms with steam heat and . . . baths with hot and cold water," and a handful of other businesses brought a taste of civilization. [13]

A panoramic view of Estes Park in 1905 shows a settlement barely emerging from its pastoral heritage. (RMNPHC)

Around the same time, an equally significant land exchange occurred that was destined to help shape Estes Park's future. In 1905, succeeding where others had failed, B. D. Sanborn of Greeley negotiated the purchase of the remainder of the Earl of Dunraven's Estes Park holdings. Prior to that sale, Sanborn had owned two cabins in the area as well as Bierstadt and Bear lakes. He had also secured water rights with the hope of developing hydroelectric power on Fall River. In Sanborn's view, Estes Park could be developed as one of the nation's great resorts. Sanborn soon learned that another investor, F. O. Stanley of Newton, Massachusetts, was also interested in acquiring the Dunraven property and building a resort, so the two men joined forces.

During a particularly inventive era in American history, Freeman Oscar Stanley and his twin brother Francis were regarded as geniuses. Together they developed a sensitive dry emulsion for photographic plates. Selling that discovery to the George Eastman Company brought them a fortune. They also invented, perfected, and manufactured the Stanley Steamer automobile. At the time, their steamers were powerful rivals of gasoline-powered vehicles. In 1906 one of their cars, clocked at 127.62 miles per hour, gained fame as the world's fastest auto.

F. O. Stanley, "The Grand Old Man of Estes Park," boosted the reputation of the region as a resort by building his grand hotel. (Frank and Judith Normali, The Stanley Hotel Collection)

Stanley first visited Estes Park in 1903. Fifty-three years old and suffering from tuberculosis, his doctor had advised him to visit Colorado and not to make any plans beyond that autumn. Stanley's summer vacation in Estes Park, however, put him back on the road to health. In the next year or two he made his own plans for an Estes Park resort, then found it convenient to join B. D. Sanborn in his efforts. Together, Stanley and Sanborn paid some $80,000 for Dunraven's 6,400-acre estate as well as 600 acres in litigation, the old Estes Park Hotel, the Earl's cottage, and a few other holdings.

Vehicles like the Stanley Steamer started appearing, bringing demands for better roads. An eleven-passenger version of the Stanley Steamer soon carried vacationers from railheads at Lyons or Loveland to Estes Park in a matter of hours, ending the days of rigorous travel. (RMNPHC)

Almost immediately F. O. Stanley turned his energy and money into making this Estes Park property into a premier resort. On September 10, 1907, work began on a luxurious hotel, designed by Stanley himself and costing more than half a million dollars. At the same time a hydroelectric plant was designed and built on the Fall River, allowing the hotel to claim it was the first in the country "to heat, light, and cook meals exclusively with electricity. . . ." [14] The massive, dominating, five-story hotel opened in June of 1909 and began hosting the wealthiest of vacationers. Here was a resort genteel by design, clearly the rival of every spa in the Rockies. Its size, conveniences, and scenic location earned it an instant reputation. Stanley expected his guests to stay a month or more and, with a wealthy clientele, that was not an unrealistically long vacation.

There is no question that the Stanley Hotel—and F. O. Stanley—put Estes Park on the maps of vacationing America. Few resorts could match such an expansive structure and such a dramatic natural setting. (Norlin Library, University of Colorado)

In September of 1910, the Stanley Manor was started nearby. This second hostel was intended to stimulate year-round visits since rooms in the Stanley Hotel had not been designed for winter use. F. O. Stanley also planned to transport his guests, for his Stanley Steamers were able to carry visitors from the railheads at Lyons, Longmont, or Loveland with a touch of modern ease. Naturally, he recognized the need for better roads, just as other Estes Park enthusiasts had years before. In 1907 he donated funds for the improvement of the North St. Vrain highway to Lyons. Only three years earlier a road carved up the Big Thompson canyon brought better connections with Loveland and Fort Collins. In 1906 the Loveland-Estes Park Transportation Company, using eleven-passenger Stanley Steamers, started making the five-hour trips from Loveland. But Stanley was not merely content to see the success of his own resort, for he helped organize a bank for the village in 1908, sold electricity to the growing number of villagers, and donated property for a park and school buildings. Most important, publicity advertising the Stanley Hotel put Estes Park on the map as one of America's foremost "playgrounds." Within just a few years, influential F. O. Stanley earned a reputation as "The Grand Old Man of Estes Park."

Enos Mills developed his techniques as a naturalist, a public speaker, and as a writer. (Estes Park Trail Gazette)

The region's resort business grew more popular each year. One man watching it grow was Enos Mills. In 1901 he finally stopped watching and began to negotiate with Carlyle Lamb for the purchase of Longs Peak Inn. Finally in 1902, Mills bought the Lamb property. Until his death in 1922, the task of running that resort became Mills's prime responsibility. His summers were busy; his business became a success. Having that lodge also allowed this budding naturalist to offer his own ideas about how Longs Peak and this region could be presented to visitors. Croquet, tennis, or golf hardly fit his style of outdoor recreation. Instead, mountain climbing, hiking, viewing birds or beavers, or merely getting alone with nature, could all start at his doorstep. "They need the temples of the gods," said Mills of his urban visitors, "the forest primeval, and the pure flower-fringed brooks." [15]

Longs Peak Inn served as Enos Mills's base of operations, first when he acted as guide for Carlyle Lamb and then, from 1902 until 1922, when he owned and operated this hostel at the base of Longs Peak. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Tending Longs Peak Inn (and rebuilding it after a fire in 1906) meant that Mills no longer returned to work as a miner each winter. Instead, he took a job with Colorado's Irrigation Department as its "Snow Observer." Beginning in 1903, he tramped throughout the Rockies during wintertime to test the snow depths. The Irrigation Department needed such information to predict water supplies for the coming season, and this was a job Mills relished. It gave him a practical excuse to exercise his wanderlust and curiosity. Into the winter wilderness he went, alone. He explored much of Colorado's high country, meeting blizzards along the way. He ventured across the Divide on snowy routes such as the Flattop Trail to Grand Lake; climbed Longs Peak in February, the first ever attempt at such a feat; and dared avalanches. One winter, according to his biographer, "he walked the crest of the continent—the 'snowy range of Colorado'—from the Wyoming line to close upon the New Mexico." [16] The same curiosity that had sent him wandering across the nation in earlier years now focussed on the mountains in his own backyard. Mills soon discovered that his tales of adventure while alone in the wilderness delighted every audience, whether at Longs Peak Inn, while making a Longs Peak climb, or at some public meeting. In an age rapidly growing accustomed to comfort, people were amazed to hear of Mills's feats in the face of the elements. "The dangers in such times and places are fewer than in cities," Mills told his eager listeners. "Discomforts? Scarcely. To some persons life must be hardly worth living. If any normal person under fifty cannot enjoy being in a storm in the wilds, he ought to reform at once." Nature could be a tonic for us all. According to Mills, even a storm could "furnish energy, inspiration, and resolution." [17]

Sawmills, like the one in Hidden Valley cutting lumber for the Stanley Hotel, dotted Colorado's Front Range. The creation of Forest Reserves (later called National Forests) helped regulate such operations on the public domain. (Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

The inspiration he found resulted in writing and more public speaking. In 1905 he published The Story of Estes Park and a Guide Book. That book displayed an interesting composite of local history, a bit of poetry, tales of Longs Peak, and a touch of personal aggrandizement. Fifteen more books followed, ranging from Wild Life in the Rockies (1909) to Bird Memories of the Rockies (published posthumously in 1931). In addition, he wrote dozens of articles that appeared in national magazines, offering readers details about forests, the Rockies, wildlife, and geology. At the same time he was becoming a popular public speaker, traveling throughout the country telling about life in the forests and mountains. In 1907 President Roosevelt recognized his ability to deliver a conservationist message and appointed him Government Lecturer on Forestry, a position he held until May of 1909. Just as Estes Park was growing more popular with its new resorts, Enos Mills was gaining a national audience with his pen and personality.

The creation of the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve in these mountains in 1905 came without the apparent efforts of Mills, F. O. Stanley, or any other residents of Estes Park and Grand Lake. Much earlier, in 1892, John G. Coy of Fort Collins had proposed to the Colorado Forestry Association that a reserve be created "on the Cache La Poudre, Thompson, and St. Vrain watersheds." [18] A public meeting held in Fort Collins expressed approval of that idea, but soon after opposition developed and the proposal was delayed. In 1898, conservationists at Fort Collins again pushed the idea, "badly needed for the protection of the watersheds feeding agricultural lands. . . ." Again, opposition to a reserve was heard, this time from a sawmill operator. "My home is in the reserve," he protested, "and I earn my bread with a little 10-horse power sawmill, running the saw myself. If you wonder why I object to the reserve, it is because I love liberty, hate red tape, and believe in progress." [19] Years of wrangling and debate followed, but conservationists never let the issue die. Then, with the stroke of a pen, President Theodore Roosevelt settled the issue. He established the reserve by proclamation on May 17th, 1905.

Only a few months earlier, in February of 1905, jurisdiction of all forest reserves had been transferred to the Department of Agriculture. Running the reserves now became the task of the newly formed United States Forest Service, and later that year all reserves were renamed National Forests. Also announced was a basic principle of management, "that all land is to be devoted to its most productive use for the permanent good of the whole people and not for the temporary benefit of individuals or companies." [20] National forest advocates held an idealistic goal of producing the "greatest good" for the greatest number of people. But that was still a concept conservationists might dispute. Some wondered whether "productive use" for the "greatest good" ruled out preservation.

As agents of conservation, forest rangers began protecting the resources of the region. Cabins along patrol routes allowed the rangers a degree of comfort as they roamed the Rockies. (RMNPHC)

On July 20th, 1907, H. N. Wheeler took charge of the new Medicine Bow National Forest (later named the Colorado National Forest). He established a government headquarters in Estes Park and hired a handful of rangers. Soon such men as Warren Rutledge and Shep Husted were patrolling the new national forest from the Estes Park office. Other rangers were stationed at Allenspark to the south, Manhattan to the north, and Grand Lake to the west. But after spending a single lonely winter at Estes Park, "and having almost no users of the Forest come to the office to see me," Wheeler decided to move his office to Fort Collins. He believed that Cornelius Bond and other town promoters were "incensed" by his decision. "It was freely stated that they wanted a Government headquarters at Estes Park," Wheeler contended, "and if they could not have a Forest headquarters, they would create a National Park so as to have the headquarters there." [21]

Colorado National Forest Supervisor H. N. Wheeler believed the region received adequate protection in its status as a National Forest. Yet he also suggested a "game refuge" idea that fostered the proposal for a park. (U.S. Forest Service, Regional Office Historical Collection, Denver)

Exactly who first suggested the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park may be endlessly debated. Wheeler's name is mentioned; Enos Mills is a prime candidate; a number of prominent Estes Park businessmen might qualify. According to historian Patricia Fazio, the formation of the Estes Park Protective and Improvement Association in September of 1906 marked a milestone in efforts to promote preservation of the local natural scene. Men such as F. O. Stanley and Cornelius Bond took leading roles in that group's decision to publicize the beauty of this mountain valley, to build roads and trails, construct and maintain a fish hatchery, enforce game laws, and even protect the wildflowers. By that time Enos Mills had also become a close friend of Stanley and perhaps his influence as a naturalist made a strong local impact.

Building a useable road across the Continental Divide was discussed for years. By 1913 the State of Colorado agreed to fund the project, dispatching convicts to begin a seven-year effort that developed the Fall River Road. (RMNPHC)

Over the next few years a fish hatchery built along Fall River began producing millions of trout for nearby streams. Numerous trail building projects such as those on Prospect and Deer mountains made hiking a bit more enjoyable. Beginning in 1913, elk were reintroduced, transplanted from Montana. That same year, members of the Association finally convinced the state to initiate construction of the Fall River Road across the Continental Divide. In September convicts from the Colorado State Penitentiary moved into cabins along Fall River and started a major seven-year highway project. Most unusual, perhaps, was a posted "wild flower notice," intended to guard against wanton plucking. It read: "You can keep Estes Park a beautiful wild garden. Spare the Flowers! Thoughtless people are destroying the flowers by the roots or are picking too many of them. Neither the roots nor the leafy stocks should be taken, and flowers, if taken, should be cut and not pulled. What do you want with an armful of flowers?" Then the notice concluded with a stern warning: "Those who pull flowers up by the roots will be condemned by all worthy people, and also by the Estes Park Protective and Improvement Association." [22] Conservation consciousness had arrived.

The Fall River Road served its purpose as a route across the Rockies, but its narrow and winding course made improvement or replacement essential. (RMNPHC)

Community leaders were clearly sensitive about the natural scenes around them. In October of 1907 the Association asked H. N. Wheeler of the Forest Service to address them on the topic of wildlife protection. "I told them that one of the biggest assets of any recreation area is the game," Wheeler remembered, "and if they wished to increase the value of their playground they should create a game refuge." [23]

Talk of that type certainly appealed to Enos Mills. In the spring of 1908 he wrote Wheeler asking where a "game refuge" of that sort might be located. Sometime later that summer, the game refuge idea was transformed into a "national park" in the mind of Mills. And the park idea Mills had in mind grew much grander, both in size and in preservationist sentiment, than Wheeler or the Forest Service ever expected. Mills proposed a refuge or park running forty-two miles from east to west and twenty-four miles from north to south—over a thousand square miles of land with Estes Park as its heart.

Once considered a harmless pastime, picking flowers was ranked as injurious to the natural scene by people who expressed a conservationist consciousness. (RMNPHC)

In Mills's view, national forests failed to offer enough protection for nature. Here he reflected an ideological split that was occurring nationally. Utilitarian conservationists such as Forest Service head Gifford Pinchot argued a "productive use" viewpoint and preservationists such as John Muir fought for aesthetic preservation. Mills could not agree with lenient Forest Service policies in regard to grazing or timber cutting. He watched cattle trample flower-filled meadows right in his own backyard. "A Forest Reserve," he wrote, "is established chiefly for the purpose of using it to produce trees for the saw-mill and grass for the cattle—a place where trees are harvested, where woodmen do not spare the trees but fell them by the thousands to keep numerous saw-mills at work." "Though a Forest Reserve, like a farm, has beauty," Mills concluded, "it is not established for its beauty but for practical use." [24]

While many other individuals contributed to the success of the national park proposal, Enos Mills adopted the issue as a personal quest. (Colorado Historical Society)

In September of 1909, the Protective Association voted unanimously to support a game refuge plan for the area. Later that organization backed the Estes National Park idea and, by 1911, the concept of Rocky Mountain National Park. Every detail of all the debates, squabbles, and arguments relating to the proposed park need not be examined here. It is enough to say that the Forest Service in general and H. N. Wheeler in particular supported neither Mill's plan nor the park idea. Wheeler believed that Forest Service efforts toward regulating stockmen and sawmill owners were working; forest fires were being fought; trails and ranger cabins were being built; water development projects, such as dams at Sandbeach, Bluebird, and Lawn Lakes, offered progress; mines, such as the newly discovered Eugenia on the side of Longs Peak, were still being dug. Furthermore, national forests now had a solid advocacy within the Department of Agriculture. National parks, on the other hand, had no such constituency. Those that existed appeared to be run in a haphazard fashion. No National Park Service had been formed.

Enos Mills cared little for the type of protection the Forest Service offered. "It deals almost entirely with the business world and is as plainly and severely a business proposition as is the growing of wheat and potatoes or the raising of hogs." [25] From 1909 on Mills embarked upon a personal crusade to establish a preserve. At first he gained the support of F. O. Stanley, the Protective Association, and many other Estes Park citizens. His speaking tours allowed him to carry his idea to the nation. In 1910 he convinced J. Horace McFarland of the influential American Civic Association to back the project. The Denver Chamber of Commerce declared its support that same year and as early as January of 1910 Congressman Edward Taylor of Fort Collins prepared a bill to create Estes National Park and Game Preserve.

By early 1911, opposition of the Forest Service became louder, with people such as H. N. Wheeler often quoted by newspapers. Some of Mills's closest neighbors living near Longs Peak Inn also opposed the idea and formed a small but vocal group called The Front Range Settlers League. Their concern about a loss of private property as well as a general distrust of Mills's motivations made their protest especially bitter. In response, that July Mills spawned his own "Mountain Climbing Organization" to support preservation, patterned after John Muir's Sierra Club. He enlisted the aid of Denver attorney James Grafton Rogers and in April of 1912 the Colorado Mountain Club held its first meeting. Helping to create Rocky Mountain National Park became one of its prime objectives. Rogers and his law partner, Morrison Shafroth, also helped by supplying more accurate maps of the region and drafting and redrafting bills presented to Congress over the next three years. Meanwhile, Mills served as chief propagandist for the park idea. He crisscrossed the nation each winter giving speeches, enlisting the support of newspaper editors, various organizations, and politicians.

In early September of 1912, Robert B. Marshall of the United States Geological Survey was dispatched to evaluate the proposed park and to determine whether its features deserved national park status. His conclusion delighted all the park advocates. His report, issued early in 1913, recommended "that Congress be asked to create for the benefit and enjoyment of the people a National Park in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the vicinity of Longs Peak, to be known as 'Rocky Mountain National Park.'" [26] But rather than presenting Mills's thousand-square-mile preserve, Marshall scaled the preserve down to seven hundred square miles. Active mining regions, in particular, kept his proposal smaller.

On February 6, 1913, the first park bill was presented to Congress. Soon after, the Colorado State Legislature and numerous other local, state, and national organizations voiced their support for the legislation. But a speedy decision did not come. More compromises had to be made. Claims regarding water usage, grazing rights, private land ownership, use of timber, and mineral extraction, all reflecting previous decades of pioneering, needed to be resolved. Mills's original thousand-square-mile dream shrank even smaller than Marshall's modest seven hundred-square-mile proposal. The first two park bills died in congressional committees. Eventually five major revisions were necessary.

On June 29th, 1914, the third and final bill was presented. Over the next several months Congressman Edward Taylor carefully guided it through the House of Representatives and Senator Charles S. Thomas helped it through the Senate. On December 13th, 1914, the House Committee on Public Lands began its final hearings. Showing a unity of purpose, former Governor John Shafroth, retiring Governor Elias Ammons, and Governor-elect George Carlson all testified in behalf of the bill. There, too, was Enos Mills. Through those years of debate and compromise, Mills never lost sight of his goal, never stopped lecturing or promoting. Now he stood ready to make a final emotional plea in behalf of Rocky Mountain National Park. Between Mills and his colleagues from Colorado every argument regarding recreation, natural beauty, patriotism, "Seeing America First," and the proposal's nearly universal popularity came forth once again. That the region was already a major recreational area Congress could not deny. Backers claimed that fifty-six thousand people visited the region in 1914 alone; ten thousand automobiles traveled the highways into the mountains each year. Following all that powerful testimony, success seemed assured.

Congressman Taylor kept the bill moving. On January 18th, 1915 the final legislation passed Congress and on January 26th President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law. Over five years of discussion, debate, and compromise finally produced a park. Less than a dream, the final bill created only a 358.5-square-mile park, a third the size Mills had envisioned.

Nevertheless, the Denver Post proclaimed a victory. And it publicly thanked Enos Mills for his vision and efforts, calling him "The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park." [27] For those involved, years of debate, frustration, and strenuous effort were not without cost: friendships were strained, quarrels flourished, and bitterness sometimes resulted.

Still, there was cause to celebrate on September 4th, 1915 when citizens gathered to dedicate the "nation's newest playground." [28] Clouds loomed overhead as the festivities began. A light rain started falling just at two in the afternoon when Enos Mills, acting as master of ceremonies, opened the program. A mountain-style downpour pounced upon the later speakers, but dampened speeches could not drown the strong feeling of progress pervading this assembly. Every path of the past seemed to lead to creating this new park. Mills may have looked back, thinking of the changes he had seen. "My youthful dream had been to scale peak after peak," he later recalled, "and from the earthly spires to see the scenic world far below and far away." [29] One of the last changes Mills and the passing generation of pioneers produced was a park, helping to insure that those coming after might also scale the peaks and see the scenic world.

The Denver Post congratulated Mills for his efforts in January of 1915, just after President Wilson signed the bill creating Rocky Mountain National Park. (The Denver Post)


Rocky Mountain National Park: A History
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