Thursday, October 31, 2002
I've often wondered what exactly James Crawford was thinking when he walked into the Yampa Valley in the 1870s on his fabled hunting trip, found this little area by the river and said, "Here's the spot."
Of course, it wasn't a terrible decision. Accounts of the time say herds of elk packed the valley and the river was full of fat trout.
A few people must have thought he was a little crazy, though. Up until then, miners and railroad workers settled most towns in the area.
But nope, Crawford was a Missourian who wanted to live in the mountains and start his own town, which we now know as Steamboat Springs.
Crazy or not, he quickly got some company of like-minded people.
In a photo of Steamboat Springs from 1898, in the Historical Art exhibit opening today at the Depot, several buildings had already been built and the basic look of downtown was taking shape.
A good, close look at the photo gives you a slight idea of what it was like here. The mountains look bare and beautiful with no ski resort, and the Yampa River was free to flow, with no railroad next to it.
There is something intriguing about all that old stuff. Looking at the photos and paintings gives a hint of what these people were like, which is what, I think, is most interesting.
It's not the yearning to live in the mountains that I think about; most people identify with that. It's more the drive of sticking it out here during those times. They weren't like most of us.
These were people who couldn't leave the valley in the winter, come hell or high snow. And when the snow melted, any connection to a more modern society still was a long ride away. But maybe that's how they wanted it.
Whatever the reasons, the exhibit is a glimpse into a culture of America that today is hard to find or even to understand.