Woman on quest for history

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Nancy McClelland Wilson has a hard time imagining her grandfather trying to take his three children across the country from Steamboat Springs to New York state by stagecoach and train. She is having a harder time researching this legendary man she never knew.

According to legend, McClelland Wilson said her grandfather, Wells B. McClelland, was the county attorney and district attorney in Steamboat during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

For the past several mon--ths, Massachusetts resident McClelland Wilson has been avidly hunting down her grandfather's history in hopes of learning more about his life and times in Steamboat.

At this point, McClelland Wilson knows little more about her grandfather than he owned a ranch on the Elk River, bought a plot in the Steamboat Springs Cemetery and tried to raise his three children after their mother died during childbirth. She doesn't even know when or where he died.

"It's been frustrating because the vital statistics that would have let me know when he died left Steamboat Springs and the VNA (who used to have the records) and are now down in Denver," she said.

It is legend that her grandfather died between 1914 and 1918 from a bullet wound sustained from a confrontation with an outlaw. McClelland Wilson does not know whether the story is true.

Other rumors about her grandfather include that he was involved with the prosecution of some members of the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang. As one of Steamboat's first district attorneys, McClelland also may have been legally involved with Butch Cassidy. Unfortunately, McClelland Wil----son has not had enough time to confirm or deny any of the stories she heard growing up.

"It was always exciting for me to hear he was involved with Butch Cassidy," she said.

McClelland Wilson compares Greek mythology to her research quest, which she said she started several months ago when she realized she was one of the last surviving members of that side of her family.

"Something happens to you when you get to be 70 years old," she said. "After I retired from teaching, I decided this was going to be on my list of things to do."

McClelland Wilson's epic adventures have brought her from the East Coast to the Yampa Valley, where her grandfather lived.

After visiting with history books and microfiche at Bud Werner Memorial Library and stopping by the county clerk's office and District Attorney's Office, McClelland Wilson has been able to find some information about her grandfather's life here.

She drove the route she thinks her grandfather might have taken when he came to Steamboat.

"I wanted to come over the old Route 40 that I imagined him coming over. I've been very indulgent in this process," she said.

McClelland Wilson hopes that in the five days she was in Steamboat she collected enough information to fill in some of the gaps she thought existed in the muddled history of her grandfather.

In addition to finding information about his work as an attorney and reading his poignant letters to his children, McClelland Wilson has found other writings that describe her grandfather in a less-than-favorable light.

In a book by John Rolfe Burroughs, McClelland Wilson found a passage written about her grandfather.

"He was a big, red-faced man, this pigmentation resulting not so much from out-of-door activity as from a chronic state of choler, not to mention a no-less chronic intake of spirituous liquors," it read.

"What do you do when your descendents come across in such a negative portrait?" she asked.

As McClelland Wilson continues her journey, she hopes to put all of her findings into writing that she thinks someone, someday might be interested in reading.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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