The Colorado Magazine, May, 1929 (Volume VI, Number 3), pp. 92-98

The Founding of Steamboat Springs and of Hahns Peak

Charles H. Leckenby

Mr. Leckenby is the publisher of The Steamboat Pilot and is an outstanding journalist of Colorado. He is a member of the Moffat Tunnel Commission and is prominent in business and political affairs. -Ed.

Steamboat Springs became a settlement not by accident but by design. Fifty-six years ago an adventure-loving young couple set out from their home in Missouri to find their future home in .the west. They were looking for a new country with fertile soil, with invigorating climate, with abundant timber and water, with magnificent scenery and prospects for the future. The young Missourians, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Crawford, found the promised land in Northwestern Colorado.

Pioneer Founders of Steamboat Springs

It was the first day of May, 1873, that Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, with their three small children, left their home in Sedalia, Missouri, to start the search for a new home in the west. They made the trip across the plains by ox team with several other families and arrived in Denver on June 4th. Indians stampeded their horses on one occasion and the high streams and quicksand made the journey to the new land one to be remembered. The Crawfords camped on Cherry Creek but remained in the vicinity of Denver but a short time. They wanted to get into the mountains and continued on to Empire, where they remained until December and then went back to the Culver ranch, three miles above Beaver Brook, and remained until June 8th of the next year.

Lured by the unknown country that lay across the continental divide they set forth for Middle Park. On the tenth day of June the Crawford party camped at Yankee Doodle Lake. John Q. Rollins was making a road across the mountains where the Moffat road crossed the divide before the Moffat tunnel was built. The grade on the road was very steep. The Crawfords had a pair of mules and a span of horses and Mr. Rollins hitched his yoke of oxen on to pull the wagon over the mountains. Because of the steepness of the road Mrs. Crawford and her three children, one seven years old, one four and one a year old, were forced to get off the wagon. A sudden snow storm came up while the ascent was being made and the children became frightened and started crying. Mrs. Crawford found a saddle blanket and all covered their heads and waited until the storm had subsided. No heavily loaded wagon had made the trip over the mountain range by that route before Mr. Crawford made the perilous trip. He had with him eight cows and calves in addition to his wagon heavily loaded with equipment.

Finally the party landed at Hot Sulphur Springs, where the Crawfords camped until a cabin was built. Mrs. Crawford relates that the cabin roof was covered with bark until Mr. Crawford could find a good tree to rive some boards to cover it. During the summer, she says, for about a month it rained almost every afternoon and the inside of the cabin was about as wet as the outside. The children developed scarlet fever and a wagon sheet was hung over the bed to keep the children dry. A carpet for the dirt floor was made of elk skins with the hair all turned one way so it could be swept.

Soon after the arrival of the family, Mrs. Crawford relates, two squaws rode up to the camp and started begging for biscuit. On another occasion when Mrs. Crawford and the children were alone, Old Colorow, well-known Ute chief, came to the cabin and demanded that Mrs. Crawford swap some money for a pony. Mrs. Crawford refused to be intimidated by Colorow and he soon left. The Indians told the Crawford family that in "one sleep" they must go. They did not leave. The time was extended to "one moon," and still the Crawfords refused to leave.

But Hot Sulphur Springs wasn't the place they had been searching for. Mr. Crawford continued his exploration trips from there in search of his future home. In the summer of 1874 while on one of these trips, Mr. Crawford gazed for the first time on the magnificent Yampa valley and knew that his search had ended. Another Missourian, Houston Richardson, was with him on the trip and Mr. Crawford urged him to become a partner in the enterprise and locate land. Mr. Richardson wanted to return to Missouri and declined the proposal but helped Mr.Crawford make his location and assisted his comrade to build a rude cabin of stones.

The manifold charms and prospective wealth of the Yampa River valley convinced Mr. Crawford that it would not be possible to find another place possessing so many features of value to the home seeker, and on returning to Hot Sulphur Springs, he announced his intention of conducting his family to the wonderful springs in the Yampa Valley and taking permanent possession of the land he had located there. It was too late in the season to carry out this plan before winter might be expected to set in, as there were no roads leading into the country, which was then an almost unexplored and entirely unsettled region. Mr. Crawford spent the winter about twenty miles down the Grand River where he put up some hay for his few cattle.

Long before the intended journey could be undertaken with safety, Mr. Crawford received information that his location in the Yampa Valley was in danger of being jumped. In order to frustrate the intended jumpers, Mr. Crawford and Lute Carlton made a hurried trip to the new home to perfect Mr. Crawford's right to the land. Although it was in June, 1875, the two men had to buck their way through the snowdrifts on the Gore range and they plodded along day after day in the face of great danger to make the trip.

When they arrived at the Yampa River springs Mr. Crawford found no sign of the jumpers. To strengthen his title he added something to the cabin begun the year before, and left other evidences of occupation, including a "garden," which was made on a small spot of bare ground with seeds brought along for that purpose. In order that there would be no misunderstanding concerning the purpose of this bit of cultivated ground it was decorated with small cards, on which was written: "This is lettuce," "these are radishes," etc. These improvements made, the two men started the return trip to Hot Sulphur Springs and again had a trying journey because of the high water.


In July, 1875, Mr. Crawford again loaded up his wagons and started for his new home. There was no road and the Crawfords found it no light tusk to make a way through the unbroken brush and undergrowth with their heavily loaded wagon and the livestock. Mrs. Crawford was charmed with the new location and no time was lost in erecting a substantial log cabin, a short distance from the present home of the Crawfords in Steamboat Springs.

Life in the new land was not without its flaws. The presence of so many Indians was one of the drawbacks, as the Yampa Valley was one of the favorite hunting grounds of the Utes and they camped at the spring" in bands of five or six hundred. For years after the pioneer family of Steamboat Springs had taken up residence on the Yampa's banks they saw more Indians than white people. The white population did not increase with any great speed but the Crawfords had abundant faith in the future of the settlement.

Mr. Crawford lost little time in perfecting title to the land and formed a company to promote the interests of the property. In this company, besides himself, were A. E. Lea, T. P. Maxwell, A. J. Macky and O.C. [sic, should be Lewis] Cheney, all residents of Boulder. This move helped to attract attention to Routt county. After the "Meeker massacre" by Indians, which occurred in September, 1879, the Indians were removed to Utah by the government, and that also improved the prospects of the northwestern part of Colorado. The demand for ranches increased and new settlers started to trickle into the new country and before long the Crawfords had neighbors both up and down the Yampa River.

The first year that the Crawfords lived in Steamboat Springs they sent to Hot Sulphur Springs to get their mail. Early in 1878, Mr. Crawford went to Denver and while there told Gov. John L. Routt, for whom the county was named, that there was no mail route to the new country. Mr. Crawford had not been home but a few days when he happened to be up on the Morrison Creek trail when he saw a horseback rider across the creek, making his way down the stream, but evidently unfamiliar with the country. He crossed over to the rider and found it to be Mann Redmond from Middle Park, having on his saddle a mail sack and carrying keys and other paraphernalia necessary for the establishment of a post office. Mr. Crawford was named postmaster and a weekly mail service was established. In the winter, snowshoes were used by the mail carrier and often be did not arrive for two weeks. It gave encouragement to the pioneers, however, to feel that they were in touch with the outside world and not entirely cut off from contact with civilization

The town of Steamboat Springs was not incorporated until 1900, and very appropriately the first mayor was James H. Crawford, founder of the town.

Steamboat Springs had a newspaper, however, long before it became all incorporated town. In 1885, The Steamboat Pilot was founded by James Hoyle. The Pilot could boast of but one local advertisement in many of its early issues. That was an advertisement inserted by the H. H. Suttle saw mill, which had been freighted in from Empire in 1883 and set up on Soda Creek a short distance above town. For a long time this advertisement had for company only the cards of two or three stores in Rawlins, Wyoming, and elsewhere. Rawlins then was the chief supply point for Steamboat Springs.


In addition to Steamboat Springs, there was another settlement in Routt County during the early '70s. It was in 1862 that Joseph Hahn and two companions started westward from Georgetown in search of gold. After prospecting for weeks along the range in Middle and North Parks, they finally crossed to the west of the second range and gazed upon the Yampa Valley. Attracted by the great gray peak that stands sentinel over the country, they wended their way to what is known as Hahns Peak. On a creek in Hahns Peak basin, placer gold was found. Winter was approaching and after a hurried survey of the creeks and gulches the prospectors were forced to turn their way eastward again. The two companions of Hahn drop out of the succeeding history, but in 1863 Hahn told his secret to William A. Doyle and Captain George Way and with them laid plans for an expedition to the new fields.

In 1865, Hahn, Way and Doyle, with a few companions, made another trip to the new gold field and prospected the country in a superficial manner but received assurance that there was gold in paying quantities. They returned to the settlements across the range and early in 1866 organized a larger expedition to come to the new country. In the late summer of 1866 a large amount of gold was washed out by the crude methods at hand. All of the party except Hahn, Doyle and Way decided to return to settlements before winter set in. In October, Way volunteered to go outside to get winter supplies and said he would return by the fourteenth of the month. He never returned.

Hahn and Doyle were in a terrible predicament. With the heavy snows, the wild game departed to the lower country. How they survived through the terrible winter they themselves never could explain. Finally it became necessary for them to obtain food, and on April 22, 1867, emaciated and weak, they started with snowshoes on the long and heartbreaking journey to Empire, more than 150 miles over the mountains. Hahn died near the Muddy in Middle Park, long before he reached his destination. Doyle was rescued by two men living in Middle Park.

The next authentic account of operations at Hahns Peak, though others may have intervened, is that in 1874 a number of companies went in and opened the mines on an extensive scale. They found large rewards and succeeded in interesting J. V. Farwell of Chicago, who expended $160,000 in constructing a twenty-seven mile ditch from Elk River to the placer ground. He opened a road from Laramie, Wyoming, brought in a saw mill and established a large store. Several extremely rich streaks of gravel were found, but in most places the gold did not come up to expectations and Farwell became discouraged with his investments and practically gave them away. It is probable that about a million dollars in gold dust has been washed from the Hahns Peak placers since their discovery.

From 1879 until 1912, the town of Hahns Peak was the county seat of Routt County. The rivalry between the towns along the Yampa River prevented any one of them from getting the two thirds vote necessary to become the new county seat. Finally the legislature settled the problem by dividing Routt County and making Craig the county seat of Moffat County, which was formed out of the western part of Routt County. Thus there was little difficulty in securing the removal of the seat of Routt County government to Steamboat Springs.

At present Hahns Peak is nearly a deserted village. A few prospectors remain to make up the population of what was once one of the boom mining camps of the west.