top of page
  • haydenmuseum



By Laurel Watson

 Working at the Museum I have learned so much about the fascinating history of the area and how early the area of Hayden and West Routt County was settled, and that prior to 1911 included all of what is now Moffat County. Settlement started in the early 1870’s, and by 1875 there were over 23 families spread out in the area. Information from this period is fairly scant as many of these early settlers left the area in 1879, after the Meeker incident, never to return. One of these families was the Smart family. Porter Smart and his sons: Albert and Gordy were the men who organized some of the first speculative development of the area they called Bear River. Albert’s wife Lou also made the journey with her husband and a small  group of preemptive settlers to tame their corner of  Northwest Colorado by establishing a homestead and post office near what is now the Town of Hayden.

 Lou Smart played an important role in preserving the history of West Routt County- although she was unaware of it- through the simple act of writing a letter to family in 1879. As a historian her letter is very important as a ‘first hand’ account, or primary source, for piecing together a better picture of the area’s early history. Lou was one of the first women in the area and her letter written to her family gives us a unique look into her life on the rugged frontier of Northwest Colorado.  This includes details regarding the events leading up to the fateful Meeker incident in 1879 from the perspective of a woman and an early settler.  Her letter also is important for the various clues she gives regarding  the early settlers of West Routt County, whom we have very little information on due to the fact that many of the first settlers left in 1879 never to return to the area.

Lou, as she was commonly known, was born Maria Louisa Richardson on November 24, 1840 in Godalming, England.  She was one of five children born to Sophia Boxall and Charles Richardson, a geologist and surveyor.  Lou grew up in a highly mobile upper middle class family and was well educated.  Sometime between 1851 and 1860 Charles and Sophie brought their family to the United States, and settled in Kanawha, Virginia.   The United States was expanding rapidly during this period and wanted to exploit the mineral and ore deposits of its newly acquired territories. This required geologists and surveyors, an opportunity that prompted the family’s move to America.  Charles wrote numerous letters to his brother in Australia telling of his travels surveying mine sites for various speculative entities and mining companies.  One such letter talks of the riches that lay in wait in Colorado, where a man could easily make his fortune.  This most likely was why he relocated his family once again in the early 1870-1871 to Colorado. 

Before the family moved, twenty four year old Lou married another English transplant, Thomas Swinburn, who was a Sergeant in the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1864.  They had two children Mabel and Charles before they divorced in 1867. Lou, divorced with two young children, headed west  with her parents when they moved.

 Lou’s parents moved to Alma, Colorado, a busy mining center initially known as the Mosquito Mining District of almost 10,000 people with two large smelting companies. Lou’s father Charles was working as a geologist and ran a lumber yard important for the large coke ovens which required large amounts of timber in the process of refining the ores.  Two of Lou’s brothers are also living with them, both working as mining engineers, as well as Lou’s eldest child Mabel who was attending school.  At some point, it was here that Lou met Albert Smart.



Above: Porter Smart ca 1860's


Albert was the son of Porter Smart. Porter Smart was a leading citizen of Gilpin County with investments in mining and land speculation. He served on the Governors Colorado Territory Commission of Immigration which sought to promote settlement of the remote western slope areas of the Colorado Territory in order to secure statehood. Porter had explored Middle Park and Western Colorado as early as 1862 for his Commission reports. He made several trips though Middle and Egeria Parks to the Grand River area and as far west as the Salt Lake Basin noting the opportunities of the area as well as the impediments to settlement. Porter’s sons, Gordy and Albert shared his enthusiasm for western settlement and partnered with their father on his business ventures including the Western Improvement and the Bear River Road Companies.

 Albert and Lou were married November 16, 1871 in Central City, Colorado.  Interestingly some of the Swinburn family attended the wedding- so Lou’s earlier divorce must have been somewhat amicable.  The newlyweds Lou and Albert lived briefly in Georgetown, Colorado where Lou gave birth to their daughter Clara in 1872. 

  Albert brought his young family to the proposed Bear River Colony site near present day Hayden sometime in the later part of 1874.   Information regarding the Shirts Colony confirms this, as does the family birth record of Albert Smart Jr. who was born in ‘Bear River- March of 1875’. It is very unlikely that the young family traveled over the Gore pass in the early spring of 1875 with two young children and Lou so late in her pregnancy.  Lou talks about driving through their old campsite which was where they  lived while their cabin was being built.  So far, no letters from this early period of Lou’s arrival have turned up yet but we are always on the lookout.  It is not until the letter of 1879 that we get a real glimpse of Lou’s life as a frontier woman.

  Lou’s life during this period had to be quite difficult for someone who was well educated, yet her letter leaves no impression of a woman disillusioned or despondent but rather one who is resilient and who stated the events in her life in a matter of fact way.  Lou’s last year in Hayden was filled with long periods alone with her three small children dealing with unexpected visits from the Utes, prairie fires, a miscarriage, and hard work.  Albert & Lou Smart’s cabin was fairly close to Major Thompson who had a cabin and trading post set in a grove of trees on the River near present day Hayden.  Major Thompson’s wife Eliza was close in age to Lou and had five small children. For a time, the two women and children were close companions and heavily relied upon each other.

The situation at the White River Reservation had been slowly deteriorating. Although the Utes had made some progress during the administration of Agent Danford, they were continually plagued by the failure of the U.S. Government to provide necessary rations promised to them, which led to many of the men to go off the reservation to hunt to provide food for their families. To further complicate the situation, the resistance of many of the younger men to convert to an agricultural lifestyle was a problem that caused tension. To make things worse, by the late 1870’s white settlers were encroaching on lands close to the reservation. However even with tensions rising there were few incidents of violence and the Bear River settlers traded peacefully with the neighboring Utes. Things seemed to improve for a short period of time after the appointment of Nathan Meeker as Reservation Agent in 1878, but it was short lived and eventually Meeker’s inexperience and overbearing idealism led to problems escalating.

The situation was not considered too threatening by the Bear River settlers in the summer of 1879. Albert felt comfortable enough to leave his family on a number of occasions for long periods to conduct business. Major Thompson also felt it safe enough to leave his wife and children behind as he went to Washington D.C. to seek an appointment to an office as a Land Agent in Arizona.

Lou writes about her experiences that last summer of 1879 in a letter she wrote to her family:

            November 2nd, 1879

Dear Friends All,--

I see you will never get a letter unless I write one.  The boys told me they had both written so I felt satisfied that your minds were relieved.  I know what it is to be in such dreadful suspense.  I have had enough of it in the last summer, alone most of the time with three little children and the big dog Colonel.

Lou had a few uncomfortable visits alone while her husband was away on business.

….The day he [Albert] left three Utes came to the house and came in.  One sat down on Charlie’s bed…I was afraid of them and did not dare leave the room.  They asked for Smart and how many men there were about the place, when the mail carrier would come and a great many other things which I pretended not to understand…. Little Bertie always was afraid of them, and when one came about he always clings to my skirts so there I sat with Bertie on one side and Clara on the other.  Charlie had gone. I worked myself into a nervous fever until I could not stand it any longer so I jumped up and told him to get out I wanted to shut the door, as I was going over to Mrs. Thompsons.  He looked at me and said, “Where you go?” I told him none of your business, if he did not get out I would set the dog on him.  Colonel lay in the door turning up the whites of his eyes at him.  He looked at the dog and then at me and concluded it was best to go…

Lou had a companion in Major Thompson’s wife, Eliza, who lived close by and like Lou was left alone from time to time with a number of small children.

Somewhere about the first of June, Major Thompson went to Washington D.C. to get an appointment as an agent for some Indian Reservation in Arizona, but there was some trouble with his Religion (he not having any) and someone trying for the plan that had so he didn’t get the appointment, and after staying there until away in July he got appointed to the land office.  About a week after he left, Albert [went to Hot Sulfur Springs] to attend court in the cattle case and we, Mrs. T. and myself were left entirely alone, our nearest neighbor being 15 miles either way down or up river.

Together the two women alone had to deal with a prairie fire that threatened to burn them out.

…The next day was Sunday, and about eleven o’clock the wind blew down the river and here came the fire before the wind.  If you have ever seen a prairie fire you may imagine how it looked, everything burnt like matches, it was blowing straight for the Majors house.  I ran over there and we tried to back fire, but the grass would not burn as the wind blew so hard. I saw that there was no time to lose, so we must save what we could….So we went to work and carried the beds and clothes first.  We set the boys to work.  The first thing they took was the guns and fishing rods…we worked until about 4 o’clock until our strength was exhausted…If ever a fervent prayer went up to heaven for help they did then from two helpless women.  The wind blew harder as the fire came nearer we could feel the heat, it seemed that it must reach the woods in a few moments.  We gave up and sat down to watch the fire, when the wind turned completely around and blew a perfect gale right up the river. This checked the fire and, in a few hours, it died out or only burnt in places where a stump had caught.  I had never saw anything like it….

After Major Thompson was appointed as an agent, he moved his family back to Denver in early July while Albert was still away on business.  This left Lou without her one companion and friend.

Major Thompson wrote to say he was coming with two teams to take them out.  That he could only stay one night, that she must be ready…I went to work to help get her ready.  Washed some of the children’s clothes and baked meat and bread and cookies for them to eat on the road.  That night I was taken very sick and the next day I could scarcely get around….I have had many friends and parted with them with regret, but I never in my life felt so utterly desolate so miserably alone as when they drove out of sight.

Albert came home within a few days of the Thompsons departure but Lou’s happiness was short lived. 

He brought a span of young horses- fine big fellows.  Rondy and Frank only five years old- a splendid team- cost two hundred dollars… So now we had a team at last and one worth having…  The next day [Albert] worked on the well all day.  I went out to watch him and pull up the ladder when he wanted it out of the way.  In doing so I slipped and fell.  For an hour or so I was very sick and when it passed off, I went about my work, got supper and put it on the table when I was taken very ill and grew worse and worse.  That was 4 o’clock and until half past one next morning I was in most dreadful agony.  How I begged for chloroform but he was afraid to give it to me.  It was another dreadful miscarriage, worse than the last.  For ten days I could not sit up even while he made my bed…

Conditions at the nearby White River Agency were heating up between the Utes and the Agent Nathan Meeker over a disagreement over the plowing up of land which resulted in an argument between Meeker and one of the tribe members.  Major Thornburg and troops from Rawlins were on their way to the agency to check on the situation when they stopped to tell Albert what was going on.  Thornburg did not expect anything to come of it and reassured Albert that the local homesteaders were in no immediate danger. The violence that ensued came as a surprise requiring the settlers in the area to leave quickly- leaving most of their possessions and livestock behind.

Mr. Reed had ridden up the river and Jimmie was talking to Albert when a man rode up at full speed, jumped down and said you must leave quick.  Major Thornburg is killed and the soldiers on the retreat.  He went to warn the people, had ridden all night.  Albert came running into the house calling Lou.  He said pack up quick, we must go. I don’t generally lose my presence of mind in danger, but I was still weak from my recent sickness and for a moment I did not know what to do…

The rest of Lou’s letter talks of their hasty exodus in their wagon in which they had to hammer the wagon tires back on every few minutes.  They picked up another family and a few others on the way and, after a wet trek through the canyon, made their way to Steamboat Springs.  Once in Steamboat, the men gathered what people there were and they fortified themselves inside the Crawford home.

 Lou mentions that Mrs. Crawford was none too pleased to accommodate the Smarts, although she was pleasant to their faces.  Lou had overheard Mrs. Crawford talking to another that the Indians were more likely to kill them since the Smarts were there.  After a week of cramped conditions and feeling like an intruder the Smarts gladly reloaded their wagon with only their beds and a number of other families and headed for Hot Sulfur Springs with twelve armed men riding in front and behind the wagon.  They left almost everything behind in order to travel quickly. When they finally reached Hot Sulfur Springs 10 days had passed since their departure from their homestead.

The Smarts were one of the families that never returned to the Yampa Valley.  They remained in Hot Sulfur Springs most likely due to Lou’s deteriorating health.  Near the close of her letter, Lou briefly tells of how her hair had turned gray from spells of neuralgia which at times caused her vision to be quite impaired making it hard for her to get around, however her greatest concern was that the children were not getting any schooling. 


 Sadly, the hard life finally caught up with Lou and in 1893, at the age of 53, Lou quietly passed away in Hot Sulfur Springs, Co. where she is buried.


Learn more: Visit the Hayden Heritage Center Museum

Photo of Porter Smart courtesy Nancy Hewins

34 views0 comments
  • haydenmuseum





Above: 135 S. Walnut St as it has sat for the last few decades- its fate is to be determined next month by the Hayden Town Board



Have you ever walked by the building and wondered what its story was? What events has it seen? Who has walked through its doors......Every building has a story ....Read on to find out this one's story......


Background

The Hayden area was pre-emptively settled in 1874 as the Bear River Colony, a settlement venture organized by Porter Smart and his two sons Gordon and Albert along with Major Thompson who was a former Indian Agent. They established a post office, trading post as well as the county seat, just north of present Hayden downtown. These early settlers left the area after the Meeker incident with the Utes in September of 1879. It was not until the 1880's that permanent settlers arrived and the town developed.


Above: William Walker ca 1893

One of these early settlers was William R. Walker, a native of North Carolina, who arrived in 1881 along with his son Martin Walker who together purchased preemption land claims from William's brother in law, Samuel Reid. William Walker was an influential leader and developer of Hayden and Routt County and was elected to serve as a Routt County Commissioner from 1883 to 1885.

Along with Samuel Reid, Walker developed one of Routt County's earliest irrigation ditches- water was adjudicated to the Walker Irrigation ditch September 22, 1892 and holds the priority number of two on the Yampa River. This ditch, which winds through the Town of Hayden south to the Breeze Basin area, is one of the oldest constructed irrigation ditches in Routt County and has been in continuous use since its inception enabling agriculture development in the area.

William Walker along with his son Martin Walker, and Samuel Donelson- William's son in law, saw the need to develop plans for a town settlement for the growing area. They drew up plans for the townsite and filed a plat for the Town of Hayden on January 15th, 1894. These Town lots paralleled Walker's Lane a 'meandering cow path' William Walker used for moving his cattle to and from his pasture land located south in the Breeze Basin area and his homestead to the north near the Yampa River. Settlers had been using this path as a road through the area. Commercial lots were established on the west side of the lane which would later be called Walnut St. and business buildings started to emerge including the one at 135 S. Walnut, which would host a number of businesses throughout the years and would be associated with a number of Hayden and Routt County notable individuals including J.L. Norvell and Ferry Carpenter.


James L. Norvell

The lot at 135 S. Walnut was part of the original plat and was first purchased on Oct 1, 1895 by James 'J.L' Norvell. It was either the Walkers or J.L. Norvell that constructed the building at 135 S. Walnut sometime between 1894 when the lot was platted and 1896 when historic photographs show the building on site. J.L Norvell was one of Routt County's prolific entrepreneurs who invested in livestock and mining interests and operated a number of businesses over the years in a number of Routt County Towns aiding to their development including a stage line, saloons, and mercantile stores. Norvell originally hailed from Tennessee arriving in the Hayden area in 1892 working as a ranch hand for Samuel Reid. He built up a herd of livestock while homesteading a ranch between Hayden and Craig and delivering mail during the winter months. Norvell moved to Hayden with his wife Lizzie and purchased property including the lot at 135 S. Walnut St. where his first store was located until he built a larger structure for his growing mercantile business in what is now the HiWay Bar building on Hwy 40.


Saloon Gunfight

Above: Early Hayden ca 1898 the building with the porch on the left was the Central Hotel (torn down in the 1960's) just north (above) is the building with the awning. The school is the log building across the street on the far right. These are the only two original structures left. The school is now located behind Porcupine Design building on Walnut St.


Norvell sold the property at 135 S. Walnut in January 1897 to Joseph Jones who opened a saloon in the building. This would be the site of one of the first gunfights in Hayden between two cowboys, "Texas" John Ogg and William Sawtell. John Ogg was fatally wounded in the gunfight which was over either a game of cards or dice and William Sawtell, who was exonerated in the slaying as Ogg was part Native American, would later became a small-time outlaw. Joe Jones, who would later serve as Routt County Sheriff 1902-1906, sold the saloon to I.A. Underwood in January of 1899. I.A. Underwood ran a saloon in the building until he sold it to Hahn's Peak saloon-man, George Anderson, in October of 1900. George Anderson was running a saloon in the building when the Town of Hayden was incorporated in 1906 and it continued as a saloon until 1908 when the citizens of Hayden voted to go "dry" thereby prohibiting alcohol within Town limits. Anderson changed the business to a Hardware and Implement Store.


Yampa Valley Bank

In March of 1912 Anderson sold the building to The Yampa Valley Bank which had originated in a comer of the J.L. Norvell Store on Jefferson Ave. According to local historian Jan Leslie the reason for the Bank moving to the new location may have developed from the National Recovery Act of 1912 which reorganized banks as separate institutions. The Yampa Valley Bank played an important role in the economic stability and growth of Hayden and was backed by local businesses and individuals. However, by the 1930's the Colorado-Utah Fuel Company, which owned the Mt. Harris Coal Mine, had acquired the largest percentage of stock in the Bank and when banks across the United States went on a two-week moratorium in 1932, the Colorado Utah Company decided to close the bank permanently.




Above: Street scene with the Yampa Valley Bank- note Ferry Carpenter’s shingle ca 1912

Photo courtesy Belle Zars


Later Businesses

On September 1, 1936 the building was purchased by the Novelty Amusement Co of Denver which opened the Crystal Theatre. In order to make it a 'real' theatre they did a number of improvements to the building including sloping the floor, installing theatre seats, and stuccoing the exterior to improve its appearance. After the theatre manager passed away in 1936, his widow sold the building to Joe Cuber and John Greve who leased the building out.

Ernest Wagner, another leader of Hayden who had helped organized the Town’s cemetery, leased the building in 1938 for his saddle and furniture store. After Ernest passed away in 1940, Don Bierig established a pool hall in the building.

By 1945 William Awe opened Billy’s Recreation Center which had a lunch counter, small dance floor and a music player. This restaurant became known as the J & J Café when Jack Allen became part of the business. In 1947 the restaurant was robbed twice within a few weeks. After the second robbery, which was done by the same three men, the following ad ran in the local Routt Co Republican Newspaper:




Above: Ad from the Routt County Republican Newspaper


From the 1950’s through to the 1980's the building saw a number of businesses pass through including Jack’s Sport Shop, a stove shop, the Hayden Re-Store, a 3.2 Beer hall called Poor Richards which later became a teen center, and finally it was shared office space which housed Mark Fischer- Attorney, an Insurance Agency owned by Darrell Camiletti, Doug Monger- Public Accountant, and offices for the Yampa Valley Electric Company and Hayden Cable Company. The last business in the building was Albert Deepe’s Wood Works which operated until 1991. The building has set vacant since, except for one summer in 2007 when it was the Elkhead Quilter’s Shop.


The Annex

Above: Inside the annex on the southside of the building was Ferry Carpenters Office noted as specializing in land and water rights. Ferry sitting at his desk ca 1912


The southern annex was added sometime about 1909 when it housed a bowling alley. This small space saw the rise of one of Hayden and Routt Counties most influential individuals, Farrington "Ferry" Carpenter. Ferry was born August 10, 1886 in Evanston Illinois to Edward Farrington Carpenter a well to do shoe manufacturer and Mary Belle Reed Carpenter. Ferry's mother had brought him out west in the summer of 1902 to New Mexico in order to improve his health as he was prone to asthmatic attacks and she felt the dry southwest would help him. Ferry fell in love with the cowboy life and eventually found himself as a ranch hand for the pioneer cattleman JB Dawson who Ferry looked to as a mentor. JB Dawson was a Texas pioneer who had made his fortune running cattle and establishing a large ranch in the New Mexico frontier. Dawson purchased the Fiske Ranch just east of Hayden and a number of nearby ranches all of which would become known as the Dawson Ranch, and persuaded Ferry to visit the family and pursue ranching and a homestead. Ferry would visit the Dawson Ranch during the summers, and attend University back east in the winter. In 1907 Ferry took up a homestead in the Elk Head area north of Hayden. Ferry graduated from Princeton University in 1908 and in 1909 on his return to Hayden partnered with his best friend Jack White to form the Carpenter and White Cattle Company which raised pureblood Hereford cattle making profits by selling bulls. Ferry worked on his homestead during the summer months attending Harvard Law School in the East during the winter. In 1912 he graduated with his law degree from Harvard and returned to Hayden to set up his law practice advertising land office and water rights as his specialties. In 1912 Ferry established his law office in the annex, which had previously housed a bowling alley, here he would start his rise to become one of Hayden's most prominent and influential citizens contributing to the development of the Hayden community and we􀀟tern ranching. He rented the annex, which had a bedroom in the back where he stayed in the winter when the weather prevented him from traveling to his homestead, for $10 a month which included outhouse privileges out back. This site served as his office for the next eight years.


Ferry served as the Town of Hayden Attorney from 1913-1925 during which time he helped establish two schools, the Elkhead Rock School and the Union High School. He also helped establish the Solandt Hospital, and served on a number of local Boards including director for the First National Bank in Hayden. In 1925, Ferry leased the Dawson Ranch from the Victor American Fuel Company which had purchased the ranch in 1915 from the Dawson's. Ferry would eventually purchase the Ranch which is now part of the Nature Conservancy.


By 1928 Ferry had become a leading cattleman in Northwest Colorado and played a key role in representing livestock interests in regional and national policy. Ferry served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Cattle and Horse Growers Association and in 1926 was instrumental in negotiating a truce between cattle and sheep factions in Moffat County during the "stock driveway crisis". He served as District Attorney from 1928 to 1932 in Routt County. In 1934 he was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to set up the administration of the Taylor Grazing Act and serve as the first Director of the Grazing Service (predecessor to the Bureau of Land Management). During Ferry's time in that capacity he worked with local stockmen all over the West and set up the management of western range lands with a decentralized grazing administration with district advisory boards composed by lessees. He also served as Colorado State treasurer 1941-1943 and was elected State Representative serving one term in 1952.



Bibliography

Carpenter, Edward F. "America's First Grazier." Fort Collins: Vestige, 2004.

Carpenter, Farrington R. "Confessions of a Maverick." Denver: State Historical, 1984.

Carpenter, Willis. "Carpenter /Dawson Ranch." Historic Nomination, Routt County, 1993.

Green, Judy. "W.R. Walker Homestead Cabin." Historic Nomination, Routt County, 2003.

History of Hayden and West Routt County 1876-1989. Dallas, Texas: Curtis Media Corporation, 1990.

Leslie, Jan. "Hayden." Charleston: Arcadia, 2010.

Leslie, Jan "Walnut Street Now and Then." Hayden Heritage Center, 2009.

Routt County Property Ownership Books

Watson, Laurel. "Yampa Valley Sin Circuit." Charleston: History Press, 2014.

Wilson, Delphine Dawson. "John Barkley Dawson". 1997.

490 views0 comments

Tuesday Tidbits By Shannon Valora- Your tidbit of Hayden and West Routt County history on Tuesday morning.

Commemorating the Wadge Mine Explosion – January 27, 1942

Tomorrow, January 27th marks the 79th anniversary of the 8th worst mining disaster in Colorado history – in terms of fatalities – and it happened right here in West Routt County.

34 miners lost their lives in an explosion at about 9:45 p.m. on Tuesday, January 27, 1942 at the Victor American Fuel company’s Wadge Mine.

The Wadge Mine was one of two mines operating at the time near the mining town of Mount Harris, the other being the Mount Harris mine owned by Colorado-Utah Mine. The Wadge mine was originally a “twin mine”, operated by two separate openings in the Wadge seam on opposite sides of the Yampa River. Wadge No. 1 was the south side mine located on the Yampa River while Wadge No.2 (the main tunnel) was northwest of the town of Mt. Harris, one-quarter mile north of the Yampa River on Wolf Creek. The main tunnel, with air shafts parallel to the main tunnel, extended west from the mine. From the main tunnel other work tunnels branched off to the north. It was in the 19th branch tunnel, the one farthest to the west and north, that the explosion took place. The main tunnel dropped off at an angle of about 10 degrees from the surface of the earth at the location. Hoists pulled the cars from the mine on this incline. Thus the explosion actually took place at a distance of a little over a mile north and west of the town of Mt. Harris.

Four men, were working on a piece of broken down equipment near the entry of the mine, when they heard the explosion and fled, escaping alive, and alerted officials of the disaster about 10:30 p.m., approximately 45 minutes after the blast. The explosion had not been heard outside the mine. Telephone lines into the mine were taken out by the explosion.

Bill Fickle, one of the four survivors, stated that the four had “heard a dull thud from way back in the hole. In a second we smelled smoke and ran for the air shaft.” Fickle went on to say that he and his companions came out through the air shaft, a smaller tunnel paralleling the main tunnel and they were “uncomfortable but not sick”. He believed that if they’d been a couple hundred yards farther into the mine they wouldn’t have made it.

Henry Johnson was the mine superintendent at the time where the 34 men were trapped about 5,500 feet inside the tunnel of the mine. Immediately upon receipt of the word of the explosion, a call for emergency rescue crew was sent out. The eerie cry of the whistle continued to blow as it’s shrill echo from the hills around an unsuspecting town. A crew from the Colorado-Utah (Mt Harris) mine, under leadership of pit boss Joe Burns, was soon ready to enter the mine. However, black, damp, deadly, carbon dioxide gas, filled the shaft after the blast and impeded the work of rescue crews who fought the suffocating gas with huge blowers, forcing air into the mine and sucking the fumes out. The rescue workers were finally able to reach the victims around 4 o'clock the next morning, over seven hours after the blast. They found broken, charred, and terribly mangled bodies, lying at the stations where they had been employed in the various duties.

Families from Mount Harris, Steamboat, Craig and the surrounding areas rushed to the site, as smoke belched from the mine entrance leaving a mixture of gas and coal fumes to blanket the community. Families were told to go home and wait for word as ambulances and hearses were called from surrounding towns. An improvised morgue was set up at Liberty Hall in the old opera house. After the first rush of excitement following the blast relatives of the doomed miners stood stoically on the cold, bleak hill awaiting further news of their men. The first rescue teams brought back the sad news that there were no survivors. It was only then, a few at a time, the families took the officials’ advice and went home.

It was another six hours before the first bodies were brought out -- six bodies carried on stretchers on a mine car. They were burned so badly that identification could not be made immediately. By 4:00 p.m., thirty-three of the bodies had been placed on rows in the morgue, only one remained to be brought out. Two of the thirty-three were still unidentified. The last body was not found and removed until Friday evening. The miners wore “brass checks”, a thin, brass coin with a number stamped on it. These were clipped to their belts as they received their cap lamp to go into the mine for shift. Many of the bodies were identified only because of their brass check.

As expected school was called off in both Mount Harris and Hayden, along with all sporting events throughout Northwest Colorado for the rest of the week. Life came to a stand-still as bodies were recovered from the mine. Workers in the community's other coal mine, the Colorado-Utah, which employed about 250 men, were told not to report for work.

The shift in which the miners were killed began at 3:30 p.m. and would have ended at 11:00 p.m. that night. Just ninety minutes later and the tragedy could have been doubled as twice as many men would have been in the mine during a shift change..

The four who escaped alive, age and town were JOE GALL, 40, Milner BILL FICKLE, 35, Hayden ELMER EVERSON, 23, Hayden MIKE ATANSOFF, 53, Mount Harris

The 34 men who lost their lives, age and town: ANTONIO ADAME, 42, Mt. Harris. PLUTACO ADAME, 45, Mt. Harris. CHARLES BAKER, 37, Craig. LEO BECK, 43, Steamboat Springs. H. TRUMAN BEEN, 37, Mt. Harris. FRED W. BLOUNT, 50, Mt. Harris. MAX BUSTOS, 65, Mr. Harris. RALPH CABLE, 30, Hayden. ROSS CABLE, 35, Hayden. RAYMOND CABLE, 38, Hayden. S. PETE CRETONNE, 51, Mt. Harris. DON FORD, 25, Craig. JACK GASPERICH, 42, Craig. PHILLIP GONZALEZ, 50, Mt. Harris. JOE A. GOODRICH, 40, Craig. HARVEY HARDIN, 46, Mt. Harris. H. H. HARTMAN, 47, Mt. Harris. ELMER HINDMAN, 40 Hayden. E. KEN HOCKMAN, 32, Mt. Harris. JOE MARTINEK, 55, Mt. Harris. TOM McKNIGHT, 54, Mt. Harris. HARRISON G. MOORE, 29, Mt. Harris. ROBERT NANCE, 46, Mt. Harris. HARRY OLIVER, 55, Mt. Harris. RAYMOND POPE, 21, Craig. GEORGE SEARLES, 40, Mt. Harris. JOE SERTIC, 50, Mt. Harris. FRANK SHEPERD, 33, Craig. TONY SKUFCA, 39, Mt. Harris. TIMOTHY TRUJILLO, 26, Mt. Harris. ARTHUR VAN CLEAVE, 34, Steamboat Springs. ADRIAN VRIEZEMA, 21, Mt. Harris. CHARLES VUKOMAN, 49, Mt. Harris. GEORGE H. WARD, 44, Steamboat Springs.

The explosion took four members of one family, RALPH, ROSS and RAYMOND CABLE were brothers, and RALPH was a brother-in-law of ELMER HINDEMAN.

Twenty-four of the thirty-four were married.

Forty-three children lost their father.

The State of Colorado paid for all of the funerals and $4375 to each family, paid at $750 per year for six years. The United Mine Workers of America paid approximately $100 to each family, while the local district UMW organization donated $25 to each family the day after the blast.

Messages and flowers from across the entire country poured into the Mount Harris and surrounding areas. The Steamboat Pilot received requests from across the nation, which they were happy to fill, for copies of the newspapers reporting the accident. The Mount Harris telegraph office received messages from relatives and friends from all of the nation concerning their relatives and friends.

The official cause of the explosion on record, was an explosion of gas caused by arc-electric machinery which was being used to help clear gas. While killing 34 men, the explosion did not do a lot of damage to the actual mine shafts. Just a few short weeks later, crews were busy reestablishing communications and running power back to the pumps and other equipment in preparation to reopen the mine.

The Wadge Mine was developed by the Victor America Coal Company in 1916, just two years after the Colorado-Utah Coal company developed their mine at Mount Harris. In January 1950, The Victor America Coal company applied for reorganization bankruptcy. The Wadge Mine continued to operate but was listed for sale in May 1951. By May 1952, total liquation of all Wadge Mine holdings had begun.

The Mount Harris Coal company mine closed on May 20, 1958. The town of Mount Harris, mostly owned by the coal mine, was dismantled to avoid taxes and liability. Many of the homes and buildings were moved to Hayden and surround areas and still stand today.

A couple more interesting side notes – • Victor-American Fuel Company also operated the Pinnacle Coal mine in Oak Creek. • Mine work at that time was a seasonal job – starting in the middle of August and going until the first or middle of February. • The Wadge Mine had approximately 125 employees while the Mount Harris mine was closer to 250 employees. • Many Wadge mine First Aid Teams had won or placed in International and local safety contests prior to this disaster. • The Wadge mine was considered quite safe. A mine inspection just 2 months prior to the accident said ventilation in the mine appeared to be good and that working conditions were satisfactory. The whole of the Routt County District had always been considered to be an almost entirely gas free field and no explosion had ever been known to occur from gas. There was also an abundance of moisture in the mine which kept the dust well under control and although it was known to contain some gas, it had never occurred in quantities sufficient to cause any trouble. • This was the second explosion for survivor, Mike Antanasoff aka: “Fat Mike”, who one of two men who survived the Moffat Mine explosion in Oak Creek in 1921 that claimed seven lives. • One other miner, Bill Lee escaped being in the mine at the time of the explosion because he had left the mine at 7:00 p.m. to take his wife and daughter to the train depot to catch the train to Denver. After seeing his family off, but before returning to the mine, he stopped by his home for a bite to eat and actually fell asleep at his kitchen table. That decision no doubt saved his life as the explosion had already happened by the time he returned to the mine. • George Searles and Elmer Hindman, both of who were killed in the explosion, did not normally work underground. They were mechanics from the machine shop who had gone into the mine at about 6:00 p.m. to repair an electrical motor. • In the mid-1800s there was no organized reporting of mine fatalities but in 1884 the death of 59 miners at the Crested Butte coal mine in Gunnison County inspired the State of Colorado to pass legislation requiring mining companies to report their accidents, both fatal and nonfatal. Of the 31 major mining incidents resulting in fatalities in Colorado, Victor-American Fuel Company was the owner of 6 of the mines, including the top two. On April 27, 1917, 121 miners were killed in an explosion at Hastings Mine in Las Animas County and on November 8, 1910, 70 miners were killed in an explosion in another Las Animas mine

Stay tuned for our next Tuesday Tidbit. Visit the Hayden Heritage Museum at 300 W. Pearl Street in the Old Depot P.O. Box 543, Hayden Co 81639 (970)276-4380 haydenmuseum@zirkel.us https://www.haydenheritagecenter.org/

We’d love to hear your memories and Feedback on our Tuesday Tidbits! Have an idea for a Tuesday Tidbit… or want to hear more about something… don’t hesitate to let us know by commenting below or emailing us!

380 views0 comments
1
2
bottom of page