Routt County Pioneer Picnic brings together lifelong Yampa Valley residents
July 17, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Shaunna Watterson arrived at Bud Werner Memorial Library on Sunday with two copies of a 1966 photograph of a bridal shower in Steamboat Springs.
Watterson was hoping one of the 73 old-timers gathered for the Routt County Pioneer Picnic could help her identify the 12 people standing behind her aunt.
"I figured this would be a good place to catch up with some old family friends and work on my genealogy," said Watterson, a fifth-generation Routt County resident who was Steamboat Springs High School's valedictorian in 1976.
Watterson's Routt County ties date to 1896 when her great-great-grandparents Henry and Carrie Mae McPhee homesteaded on land that now is part of Fetcher Ranch. She said the McPhee's first arrived in Colorado in the 1890s after they were enticed by Leadville's silver boom.
"It's fun to see people you don't get to see very often, reconnect and hear some new stories," she said during Sunday's picnic.
The Pioneer Picnic became an annual gathering at the turn of the 20th century, and attendees were required to have lived in the county for at least eight years. Picnic organizer and second-generation Yampa Valley resident Jo Semotan said that in its early years, the gathering was exclusively for the pioneers who got together to hike and hunt game, all in the absence of television and radio.
"Gradually, it has grown," she said. "Today, we want the newcomers and the pioneers to all come together and learn from each other."
Katherine Compestine, whose grandparents moved to a ranch along the Elk River in 1900, may have summed up the spirit of the picnic the best as she sat chatting with other Routt County residents who remember a time when Steamboat had less than 2,000 residents and its downtown was no larger than three city blocks.
"There's a lot of history here, and this is why I enjoy seeing everyone," she said gesturing to the more than 100 people chatting in the room.
Attendees' stories dated back to the turn of the 20th century, and quickly blended together into a noisy chatter at the picnic inside the library.
The pioneers also were quick to announce the arrival of Jim Crawford.
Crawford's great-grandfather, James Harvey Crawford, became the first permanent resident and founder of Steamboat Springs in 1875. Jim didn't move to Steamboat until 2004 but said the Yampa Valley still felt like home. He said his grandfather also founded the first pioneer association that initiated the county picnics.
"It's great to reconnect with the old-timers," he said. "What's been nice is to find people who knew my grandfather."
James Crawford arrived in what is now Steamboat Springs in 1874 and spent the next two years establishing a residence with his family and building a road.
"There was no way for him to get a wagon here in 1874," Jim said.
Lewis Kemry, 90, was born and raised on a ranch near the Four Mile Bridge on the Elk River. He said that he's had plenty of chances to escape from Routt County but that his longest notable absence totaled 30 months.
"I guess I was just happy here," he said. "When you get involved in the farming and ranching life, and you take a liking to it, you hang in there and keep digging."