Elbert County, Colorado History and Genealogy

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Share Your Story of Colorado History

History Colorado has a fantastic new contest called "Share Your Story." Colorado residents are invited to dress up as your favorite Colorado history figure, snap a picture of it, and share your story in 250 words. If you enter by November 13, you may just win an overnight get-away for a family of four to Glenwood Springs!

The “Share Your Story” photo contest will be open to Colorado residents 18 years of age or older beginning on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011 at 8 a.m. MT and ending on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011, 11:59 p.m. MT.
Photo submissions can include yourself, your kids, or your whole family dressed up to tell a Colorado Story. Dress up to look like your favorite Colorado characters and figures—an adventurer of centuries past, perhaps a Colorado sports figure, or a picture of you in a uniform or a costume that relates to your cultural heritage and family legacy in Colorado; or maybe you’ll invent a futuristic character — someone you think has yet to leave their legacy on Colorado’s history.

Visit http://www.facebook.com/HistoryColorado?sk=app_95936962634 for more information and to Share Your Story!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Elbert County Museum Opens Sunday May 29th

The Elbert County Museum opens for the summer this Sunday, May 29th! If you haven't visited the museum before, be sure to stop in for a glimpse of Elbert County history. And if you have visited before, there is always something new! This year's special exhibit is "Yesterday's Tools: Tools from the Home, Barn and Machine Shop."

Main Street features Dr. Denny's office, a bank, a mercantile, and post office. The post office is special to my family because it is the counter of the old Elbert Post Office where my father-in-law was postmaster for 35 years. I feel like I am walking into the old post office and that Warren should be standing at the window!

Here is a link to a
short video about the Elbert County Museum at Our Journey. Click on Elbert County Museum. The post office counter is in this video.

The museum is open Thursday through Sunday 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. during the summer.

Be sure to visit the Elbert County Historical Society and Musuem
website for more information.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Denver & New Orleans Railroad in Elbert County, Colorado

Terry Courtright has prepared another informative piece about Elbert County History!

This information is taken from the comprehensive and thoroughly illustrated book “Denver & New Orleans—In The Shadow of the Rockies” by James R. “Jim” Jones (published by Sundance Publications, Ltd., 1997), which is available through the Elbert Library.

In 1881, former Colorado Territory governor John Evans and associates began work on the Denver & New Orleans Railroad. It was to be the first standard gauge route to cross the Palmer Divide and would be a strong competitor to the Denver & Rio Grande along the Front Range on the way to joining with the Fort Worth & Denver City RR on the Canadian River in New Mexico, which in turn would interconnect to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. The D&NO route generally followed Cherry Creek southeast from Denver, crossing it in present day Parker, and climbing along Hilltop Road entered today’s Elbert County by mid December, 1881. From there the route meandered down to Running Creek at today’s Elizabeth, and then continued south closely following county roads 17-21 and 106 to Elbert Road and the present town site of Elbert by mid January, 1882. The town of Elbert was moved from 7 miles southwest to the present location to be along the railroad and became an important stop. Before the end of January, construction had exited Elbert County, following Kiowa Creek and today’s Elbert Road south to cross the Palmer Divide at Apex, then on to Eastonville, Falcon, east of Colorado Springs and on to Pueblo by the end of April, 1882. The railroad seemed always to struggle financially and through several reorganizations by 1898 was known as the Colorado & Southern Railway. In the early 1900’s, only limited freight and “mixed” trains were running the rails between Denver and Colorado Springs. On May 30, 1935, a great flood swept down Kiowa Creek and washed out much of the tracks in and south of Elbert. Nearly half of the buildings in Elbert were destroyed and 6 people from Elbert and Kiowa lost their lives. Because repairs to the tracks was not economic, rail service south of Elbert was discontinued, and to Elizabeth and Elbert only limited schedules were run. Truck and automobile routes were improving and the train was no longer necessary to rural areas. By the end of October, 1936, the railroad through this part of Elbert County was completely abandoned.

In the railroad’s heyday, it was an important method for getting farm and ranch products to the cities and necessary merchandise back out to the rural communities. The trains carried the mail on a daily basis. Sheep, cattle, horses and hogs; milk , cream and cheese from local producers; lumber and timbers; coal; and a wide variety of produce including potatoes, beans, corn, wheat and other grains were all carried more seasonally. Mercantile stores were located along the route and their warehouses were often positioned beside the tracks. Passenger traffic was important on a daily basis before the roads became easily travelled and before the automobile was widely in use. And it was especially popular to take Sunday picnic excursions from the cities to Elizabeth and Elbert to view wildflowers and escape the summer heat. While the Elbert County Fair was held in the fields south of Elbert, several passenger trains from both Colorado Springs and Denver would bring people out for the festivities.

Although continuing development is removing traces of the road bed in many areas (as the grade is used for roads, and the fill is hauled away for other purposes), the abandoned route can still be seen from several county roads as shown on the accompanying map. Respect private property, refer to Jim Jones’ book for more details and enjoy your search in Elbert County!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Unknown Grave Made Known!

Part of my job for the Elbert County Library District is to process local history requests. Last year, I received a request from Susan Hathaway who was looking for her great-grandfather's grave. Susan knew Moses Hathaway died February 19, 1904 and was buried February 24, 1904. She believed Moses was living with his son, William Oscar Hathaway, at the time of his death and thought that William lived in Elbert County, but she wasn't sure where.

According to a family story told to Susan by Virginia, the widow of her second cousin, Moses' body was pulled up the hill to the cemetery in a wagon and William's wife was too pregnant to walk up the hill for the burial. Her baby was born ten days after Moses' death. This story had also helped Susan and Virginia pinpoint the date of Moses' death, which family information had given as 1903. But knowing the baby was born in 1904, Susan believed Moses had actually died in 1904.

The first thing I did was pull out the Elbert County Cemetery Records book. I found a W.C. Hathway (note spelling) who owned a lot in the Elbert Cemetery with an unknown, occupied grave. This seemed very likely to be Moses' grave and fit well with the story of the cemetery being on a hill. W.C. or W.O.? Hathway or Hathaway? Too close to not be the W.O. I was looking for, but without original documentation, I couldn't prove it one way or the other.

Recently, I visited Kathy, the secretary for the cemetery association, to look at the actual cemetery book. Kathy, Ruben (a friend who went with me), and I looked through the book and found (with disappointment) the entry - W.C. Hathway. But we still had one more possibility to check--the original 1887 cemetery map. The three of us searched the old maps eagerly and after a few minutes Ruben said, "I found it!" And there, clear as day, was W.O. Hathaway. (See below)


I e-mailed Susan Hathaway and she was thrilled to know what we had found. I did a little further investigation in the newspapers to make sure W.O. Hathaway lived in the Elbert area and found he'd bought land east of Elbert in 1902 and was appointed to the Fondis school board in 1904. Susan and I discovered some other connections, so we knew without a doubt this was her Hathaway family.

Last week I went to the Elbert Cemetery and took a picture of the lot owned by W.O. Hathaway. The picture below shows the lot where a black monument stands for a husband and wife. Moses is presumably buried in this lot, too. The photo is taken from the west side of the lot, looking east.

Note: This story was told with Susan Hathaway's permission.

Monday, March 28, 2011

John C. Fremont in Elbert County

Today we have a guest post by Terry Courtright. Terry is a retired geologist living in the Elbert area who is interested in the history of the area. He recently gave a presentation at the Elbert Library on John C. Fremont in Elbert County and I'm happy to have him share some of his findings here.

Although Fremont travelled through the west on 5 mapping expeditions and other times on personal trips, only on his 1843 expedition did he enter the area now in Elbert County, Colorado. The map below shows his route, taken from a map in his journal, overlain on a modern map showing county outlines, major roads, towns and larger watercourses.

On the night of July 9, 1843, Fremont and his party camped "on a small stream, near the road which runs from St. Vrain's fort to the Arkansas". This would be in today’s Russellville Gulch, just south of Franktown and along the old Trappers Trail and just west of the Elbert County line. More excerpts from his journal as edited by Jackson and Spence, 1970, p. 440-443, for the days he was actually in Elbert County follow.

"July 10.--Snow fell heavily on the mountains during the night, and Pike's peak this morning is luminous and grand...Leaving the encampment at 6 o'clock, we continued our easterly course over a rolling country, near to the high ridges, which are generally rough and rocky, with a course conglomerate displayed in masses, and covered in pines...In six miles we crossed the headwater of the Kioway river, on which we found a strong fort and corral that had been built in the spring, and we halted to noon on the principal branch of the river. [The distance may be a little short of the actual, and they would have crossed today’s Running Creek nearly where Colorado Highway 86 passes through Elizabeth. The “strong fort and corral” may have been built by the Bent-St. Vrain Company along the ‘express route’ between Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River and St. Vrain's Fort on the South Platte River. Their lunch stop would have been approximately 3 miles north of today’s Kiowa.]...We encamped on Bijou's fork, the water of which, unlike the clear streams we had previously crossed, is of a whitish color, and the soil of the bottom a very hard, tough clay...The greater part of the people were sick today, and I was inclined to attribute their indisposition to the meat of the bull which had been killed the previous day." [This camp would be 4 to 5 miles north of where Highway 86 crosses Bijou Creek today.]
"July 11.--There were no indications of buffalo having been recently in the neighborhood; and, unwilling to travel farther eastward, I turned this morning to the southward, up the valley of the Bijou [the map shows they stayed along the west side of the creek.]...As we were riding quietly along,...we discovered...a large grizzly bear...He did not fall until after he had received six rifle balls. He was miserably poor, and added nothing to our stock of provisions. We followed the stream to its head in a broken ridge,...This is a piney elevation...from which the waters flow in almost every direction, to the Arkansas, Platte and Kansas rivers; the latter stream having here its remotest sources...Descending a somewhat precipitous and rocky hill side among the pines;...we encamped at its foot, where there were several springs, which you will find laid down on the map as one of the extreme sources of the Smoky Hill fork of the Kansas. [We now know Fremont was mistaken and that this east flowing stream is the upper reaches of the Big Sandy.]...Elevation of the camp 7,300 feet."

This camp would have been just south of the Elbert County line, north of today’s town of Peyton, and marked the exit of Fremont from his only visit to the immediate area.

Source: Jackson, Donald, and Spence, Mary Lee, editors, "The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont, Vol. 1, Travels from 1838 to 1844," Univ. of Iilinois Press, 1970. Available through your local library.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sheep and Cattle in 1880 Elbert County

Today John and I drove through eastern Elbert County, taking pictures, locating old towns and cemeteries. The picture above is Bijou Basin taken from County Road 150 north of Highway 86. We've had a very dry winter, as you can see. Hoping for a spring blizzard or two to give us some needed moisture.

When we got home, I started looking through 1880 Elbert County census records on Heritage Quest (available through the Elbert County Library District) and ran across a very interesting household:

Yes, your eyes are seeing right - that's a cattle owner and a sheep owner in the same household! Not only that, but there are 2 cowpunchers and 1 sheepherder there, too. Along with a bookkeeper and a brakeman for the railroad. The house was in the "East of West Bijou Basin Creek" precinct, which means it could have been anywhere from West Bijou Creek to the Colorado state line, Elbert County's eastern boundary at the time. It's interesting to note that the two proprietors had not lived in Elbert County before the census was taken. And the longest any of the other men had lived in Elbert County was 8 months.

Sheep and cattle wars were taking place in the west at this time. The 1880 Agriculture Census shows Elbert County had 66,803 sheep while its cattle numbers were 12,275 range cattle and 1,582 milk cows. 37 percent of the sheep in the state Colorado were in El Paso, Huerfano, Larimer and western Elbert counties. Weld and Elbert counties held a fraction over 37 percent of the cattle in eastern Colorado.

As far as I know, Elbert County didn't have any major sheepmen and cattlemen confrontations. Eventually, cattle took over as the leading stock in Elbert County.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The West Lincoln School

West Lincoln School District #42, located about three miles west of the town of Elbert, was formed in 1909. The district built a small structure to house the school on an acre of land donated by Ed Clark. As more people moved into the community, it became necessary to build a larger schoolhouse. Local builder Jens Olkjer built the existing schoolhouse in 1913 and it was first used during the winter term of 1913-1914, better known as the year of the “Big Snow.” Bernice Gresham Roberts recalled walking on snow over the tops of the fences to get to school her first year of school.

The names of the students reflected the family names of the community: Gresham, Hoover, Murray, Brazelton, Clark, Gatewood, Dietrich, Squires and Dittemore. The second generation of the Gresham, Squires, and Murray families also attended the West Lincoln School.

The schoolhouse was the center of the Lincoln community. Dances, box lunches, and political rallies were held at the school. A literary society formed and a Sunday School met at the schoolhouse for a time.

West Lincoln School closed in 1945 and the students started going to the Elbert School.

The one-room West Lincoln School provided an education for 125 children over a time period of thirty-six years. The careers and lives of the students testify to the solid base of education they received. These included a college president and professor, an elementary school teacher and school principal, a county commissioner, a postmaster, a pilot, an insurance agent, and farmers and ranchers.