I left a museum in Montrose, for another in Gunnison. I arrive to find two local historians waiting for me; Larry McDonald is an author, and docent of the Pioneer Museum, and David Primus, a local historian and instigator of the Colorado Historical Newspaper Digitization Project, a source I had already tapped into for this trip. Larry had prepared a 16 page booklet of links to their archives, and presented it to me as both a printout and on a USB drive. The two gentlemen spent the next couple of hours answering my questions and scanning the photographs I had brought with me, which I wanted to add to their archives.
The Pioneer Museum can rightly be called the Smithsonian of Gunnison. When I returned the next day, Larry took me on a tour of its 30+ buildings by golf cart, showing me where all the clothing and textile related items were, including sewing machines, a WWI era sock knitting machine, and a room of clothes washers arranged in chronological order.
Larry knew of my interest in textiles, and asked me as many questions as he answered, which made for a great exchange of information. I explained how the mercantile’s tin of sewing machine needles and bobbins worked, and he allowed me to open the wooden cases to examine the contents.
We peered into drawers and he pulled things out of closets for me. Closets that were CHOCK FULL of clothing. He asked me what the fabric was on a tiny parasol (it was water taffeta), and allowed me to model it. I got to listen to a 1930s Victrola record player that still worked. We talked about a 1900 Stetson Bowler. He showed me their wall of cowboy hats, and the embossing machine that monogrammed the inside band.
There was a room of children’s things, including toy ovens that were electric and actually baked (!) and a child size rolltop desk that was about 3 foot tall
I went back after lunch with a fresh camera battery, and to loan Larry my flash drive of photos I had scanned from my collection. For the next two hours I hopped in and out of homesteader’s cabins, a train depot, two post offices, a railroad bunk house, and a school. I visited the largest collection of antique cars and carriages I have ever seen in one place.
I had also come here to find the marker for the town of Cebolla, and the Sportsmen’s Hotel which was built by my great great grandfather as a hunting resort in 1904. But in 1961, Cebolla and two other towns were submerged when the valley was flooded to build the Blue Mesa Reservoir. So my family’s hunting lodge was lost forever.
Or so I thought…
David informed me that before the valley was flooded, a 19 year old was handed a hand saw and told to cut the Sportsmen’s Hotel in half, so it could be loaded onto trailers and moved. The main hotel, and I think some of the row of fishing cabins, are now an apartment building at the edge of town. One of the tenants, after I told her of my connection to it, left a voicemail for her landlord, and showed me her studio on the ground floor. The interior paneling is wood (looks new), and what looks like the original log construction is still exposed in the hallway just outside her door. Her apartment opens out onto the porch (not shown here), where she graciously allowed me to sit for a few minutes.
I received a call from the landlord when I got back to Seattle. He said the handsaw story was just a story, but that he bought the building with his college fund when he was 19, and had the building cut in half (with power tools) and moved by flatbed truck to its current location. He’s been restoring and upgrading it ever since. He’s owned the building for 48 years, which he believes makes him the longest running owner. The log wall I saw is not original, he said the original wall is behind that. The interior paneling is also fairly new, and the fishing cabins that I thought were part of this building, were not part of the move. I thanked him for saving this part of my family legacy. We plan to swap information from our respective personal files over the coming weeks.
My last destination was Jack’s Cabin, which was a stagecoach stop before the railroad came through. The cabin – built in 1875 and which grew into a small string of businesses in 1880 – is no longer there, but the marker points to a stretch of farmland that has not changed much since my grandmother lived there, sheltering with her family from the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The year she was there, she worked for the Spann family, who still owns this property.
I returned to the Pioneer Museum on my last day in Gunnison, to report that I had found the marker, and that the landscape was mostly unchanged from when my grandmother lived here and worked the hay harvest for the Spann family. The docent disappeared but returned a moment later, with the contact information for the Spann family… so I am now in the process of making that connection as well…
This trip has been the Wild West Ride that zoomed right past the borders of my wildest imagining. I’ve experienced a lot and have met people who have been unexpectedly supportive in my mission to take this walk back in time. It will take me several weeks to distill all the information I have collected on this trip.
Tomorrow I say goodbye to these ancestral grounds and head back to Grand Junction for my flights home.