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Where It All Began

   Steele Park is specifically the area above the Steele’s Alta Vista ranch on the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River a few miles north of Lake City and below Cannibal Plateau, where Alferd Packer murdered and devoured his companions in the winter of 1874. More generally, it encompasses the area where Charles and Cynthia Steele ran their cattle and cut timber. It is the starting point for the history contained here.

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Cynthia Weed Steele

Betty (Steele) Wallace, wore many hats over the years – reporter, Clerk of the County Court, columnist & de facto editor, high school English teacher and author. Born on a small ranch in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, of pioneer stock and into a world of ranching, mining and timbering, she had a deep understanding and keen appreciation of those who migrated to the area and built the communities. Some of those communities faded into ghost towns, some continue to prosper. The people who built that part of Colorado are long gone, but Betty had known a good many of them, went to school with their children and knew every family in the Gunnison Valley – their history, virtues, faults and quirks. For several years, she wrote a weekly column in the Gunnison News-Champion, telling the stories of the area’s early citizens. She called it her ‘pioneer series’ – interviews of the original settlers or their children; ranchers, saloonkeepers, miners, storekeepers, prostitutes, preachers and politicians. One of the people she interviewed and wrote about was her mother, Cynthia (Weed) Steele. This is her column on my grandmother, published in the Gunnison News-Champion, April 6th, 1950. Continue reading

Dudes

Harry Frye, the big, handsome Georgian, with his soft and beguiling “Gawga” accent, had a troublesome time fishing in the Rio Grande at the Lower Ranch one night.

To begin with, the evening was one without a moon, and even the stars seemed more remote and less helpful than usual. The willows and brush along the stream snagged person and tackle in veritable witchery. Even the river boulders seemed slipperier. Harry had finally established himself just short of midstream in a favorable fishing spot and was happily casting the special fly of the hour over the water. Aside from the sound of the rippling stream, the voice of a cow in the pasture as she spoke occasionally to her calf, and the lonely sound of a nighthawk going about his business, all was still. Harry was alone, as his fishing partner had gone at least a quarter of a mile away to do his fishing.

Suddenly, there came a loud and startling: “Plop! Plop! Plop!” It came from nearby; and the waters, in which Harry stood in frozen quietude, rippled noisily. Then, horrors! Something dark, solid and very much alive swam right between his legs and on downstream.

The thought of alligators did not help, because common sense discounted this – there couldn’t be “ ’gators” as far “nawth” as this! “But what kind of mountain boomah was it?” demanded our Harry upon his precipitate arrival at headquarters.

“Only a beaver,” Wallace answered; and, of course, that is exactly what it was. However, we agreed that the experience had been very hair-raising to Harry, and we all properly commiserated with him.

The very next afternoon, after a morning of successful fishing in the same portion of the river where the beaver had disturbed him the evening before, Harry decided naps were for the ladies and the old and decrepit, and drove over into the Clear Creek country. He said afterward that his experience with the beaver had aroused his curiosity; and there being a number of them in that area, with their numerous ponds and odd houses, he was desirous of obtaining more knowledge of the creatures.

As anticipated, he found the dams of the small lakes and their homes very interesting. Beaver dams are marvels of construction, with the surface neatly and compactly tamped by those same flat tails whose plopping on the water has startled many of us. He saw no beaver, of course, as they are nocturnal in their habits. After a while, he turned to other matters, which were – of all the alls! – two black bear cubs! Quite as aroused as he, they obeyed the teaching of their mother, who was not in sight, and immediately climbed a fair-sized aspen tree.

Harry was intrigued by the funny, fat lil’ “boogers” and began tossing small rocks at them, hoping to get them to come down from the tree. But they did not come, continuing to hold fast to their perches, their bright little shoe-button eyes fixed on this strange twolegged intruder.

This exciting episode, the second in less than twenty-four hours, was quite enough for Harry, who rushed back to the ranch and gave some fifteen or so of us in the kitchen his colorful version of his latest experience.

After he had gone to his cabin, we all looked at each other. Ray laughed and said: “That Harry! Run from a beaver and throw rocks at cub bear! If one of ’em had even squeaked, their momma’d soon have made mincemeat of the ‘son-of- Gawga’!”

For, of course, she had been in the bushes only a few feet away, watching the play.

Lineage


   Jonas Weed [Jonas Weede in ship's registry] arrived with the 1630 Winthrop Fleet, established himself in Watertown MA, made Freeman May 1631. Few years later, he helped found Wethersfield CT, first official settlement in CT. He soon moved to Stamford CT and became one of the leading figures in early Stamford. BTW: Stamford public library has a treasure trove of books and documents for genealogy of the New England area, including Charles Allison Weed's book. " History of Weed and Allied Families".  Continue reading 

Ignorance Running Rampant

During one particularly wintry day, I took my bearskin coat out of the closet and wore it to work, along with my Mohawk silver-fox cap (including tail) and rabbit-skin mittens. When I walked into the office, there was much merriment (and some flat-out jealousy, if truth be known). I remarked that the bear was killed in 1916 or early 1917, one of the last things Uncle Wal did before joining General Pershing’s staff on our entry into WWI.

Digression: Pershing was a tall man and hated standing out for his height. He liked to surround himself with staff equally tall. Or maybe he felt that on a battlefield he made too tempting a target. Uncle Wal was 6’4″.

One co-worker. however, sniffed disdainfully and lamented that a “noble animal had died to make someone a fur coat”. Continue reading

Cannibal of the San Juans

Excerpt – Rio Grande Ripples
– Mabel Steele Wright

   Tonight when the kitchen was filled to capacity, as usual, with the overflow sitting in the dining room, and I at my typewriter answering the day’s correspondence and the rest occupying chairs, stairs and floor space, “Juicy” Owen remarked that surely there must be some newcomers—he really said “victims”—who hadn’t heard the Packer story. Response was immediate. “I have, but not for ages—besides Miss X hasn’t, I’ll bet, and maybe Susan.” Miss X was a reserved but pleasant type from Vermont, dean of women at a college Susan attended.
Continue reading

The Bent Family – Hermit Lakes

Excerpt: Rio Grande Ripples
– Mabel Steele Wright

   It seems appropriate at this time to relate something of the Bent family with whom I was privileged to be closely associated for many years. Herbert C. Bent’s father, and grandfather to several of the Bent children in my little mountain school, was Charles Hammond Bent. He was by heritage endowed with an adventuresome spirit. His wife, Amanda Jane Carr Bent (Jennie), was of the same. The Carrs came to Boston in 1635 and the Bents in 1638. Both families were associated with the Massachusetts Bay Company. As time passed, members of both families sought new lands and fortunes with the result that Amanda Jane Carr and Charles Hammond Bent were married in Oswego, Kansas, December 23, 1868. While living there, he held various public offices, including that of legislative representative at the Capitol in Topeka. In passing, it is interesting to note that Charles and William Bent, who built and operated Bents’ Fort in southeastern Colorado (territory) in the 1830’s, were cousins. I remember Bert Bent saying that there was always a “Charles Bent” in the family — his eldest son a Charles. Continue reading

A Grandmother’s Tale

   Originally published in Bluebook Magazine in April 1938. The Son referred to was my uncle Herbert. The Little Daughter was my mother Betty.

High Bridge
– by Cynthia Sophia Weed Steele

   You may think that the life of a ranchwoman must always be a humdrum existence. But as proof that a middle-aged farm woman, raising children and chickens, making cheese and garden, need not always go out of her way to find thrills. I offer two experiences out of my life.
Continue reading

My Sister the Stove

Mabel Steele Wright 1898-1993

You were retired this day, May Day, 1976, after 75 years of almost constant service, some of it night duty, far beyond the call of, and I feel a compulsion to comment on our relationship from the autumn of 1918.
It was then I was formally introduced to You. You presented what I thought, a formidable appearance. Ray and I had moved from the Honeymoon cabin where we’d spent our first summer to the Big House where I was to endeavor to cook for him and his brother who would be feeding the cattle that winter and for many more to come. Continue reading

Halloween 1889

Granny’s Halloween Story – published 1994 in Lake City Silver World

Young children growing up in the log cabin of Charles & Cynthia Steele located on a mesa above the Lake Fork north of Lake City were always particularly fascinated when their mother washed the worn wooden floorboards in a certain room of the house.

On those occasions when the boards were moistened, a deep maroon stain would gradually appear on one section of the floor. Over the years Mrs Steele scrubbed and scrubbed in an effort to remove the stain – but to no avail. When those particular boards were wet, the puddle shape of the suspicious maroon stain always returned. Continue reading

Building Fence

The Mountain Man was engaged in building fence across the Rio Grande at the Lower Ranch. At this specific time he was being assisted by ‘Vic’ Miller, a lad of around eighteen years and one of the group known to us as ‘the boys’, who periodically helped us with the hay harvest, usually starting as sulky-rake operators in the days when teams were in order.

It was just past the middle of June, and a belated spring with cold nights and cool days had slowed the melting of the snow in the high country. Now the weather had turned warmer and summer had arrived suddenly and unheralded. Down came in wild recklessness the deep snows of December and January, swelling the old Rio Grande to astounding proportions, to big for its bridges, and causing doubt whether it would be contained within its legal banks. Continue reading

Coping With Winter

 

My uncle Ray and his two brothers, Wallace and Warren owned a ranch in the upper Rio Grande Valley in Colorado. Pump in the front yard, outhouse in back. Ice cut from winter lakes & stored in ice-house to cool ice-boxes in the summer. This was pre-REA, so they had their own generator and shut it off at 11pm – after that it was kerosene lanterns or darkness. The phone was party-line and hand-cranked. Folks used to have concerts, each playing piano, fiddle, harmonica, accordion – whatever. Music online before the Internet! Snow 8-10′ deep in the meadow, took a sleigh out to feed the cattle every day and a rifle at night to scare off the elk. Roads were plowed, maybe, sometimes, barely – you didn’t depend on the County. By today’s standards, they would be considered low-tech or even primitive. Continue reading

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