Joanne Palmer: Steamboat myth busters


Joanne Palmer

Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at

Find more columns by Palmer here.

Myth 1: The Ute Curse

The Ute curse is the number one myth in the Yampa Valley. If you don't hear it from your waitress, you're sure to see it on a brochure. The story goes that an Indian chief cast a spell of sorts on the Yampa Valley. As a result, visitors are destined to be seduced by its charms and always return. There is no supporting evidence in old newspapers or great-grandma memories. The only proof that it's true is that we're all here.

The myth dates from the early '70s, when a guy named Smokey, because he did, drove an unauthorized limo service - an unheated old Travelall - between the airport and town unbeknownst to the local authorities.

The car was cold, Smokey was cold and the distance to the El Rancho was long, so Smokey conjured up this perfectly lovely tale to keep his mind as far from his freezing feet as possible. Smokey disappeared, but the Ute Curse remains.

Myth 2: You can predict the severity of a winter by the height of the skunk cabbage.

Bill Sherrod thought this up over a brew at the VFW and it just sort of stuck. No one ever thought folks would latch on to the story. But after some media types got interested, Bill received orders for skunk cabbage seeds from all over the country.

Myth 3: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hung out in Routt County.

Nope, that was in Brown's Park. In 1911, Routt County opted to draw the county line along the 107th meridian, excluding what is now Mofatt County and Brown's Park, where cattle rustlers ruled the roost.

Myth 4: The 90 meter at Howelsen Hill was torched in protest to the 1976 Olympics being held in Steamboat Springs.

It's true tempers ran hot when Steamboat residents debated whether to host Olympic Nordic events. Although the games never came, things got downright unfriendly in this friendly town for a bit. And exactly what caused the fire is ever shrouded in mystery.

Some facts are clear. First, the run was painted with highly flammable paint a few weeks prior to the fire. Second, an old ski bum was living (and cooking) under the outrun. Either or both could have caused the burn.

Myth 5: Steamboat Springs always was and still is the wild and woolly West.

Not really. In fact, the town founder's wife, Margaret Bourn Crawford, was a teetotaler and with her arrival in July 1875, the town became dry. Deeds to homes in the old sections of town prohibit the making or serving of alcoholic beverages, a ban that wasn't lifted until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Myth 6: Did Chicken George exist?

Chicken George was an enterprising old-timer who placed his chicken coops over the warm steam that rose from the downtown hot springs - now the site of the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center public pool. The hens had no reason to fly the coop; they stayed warm and laid more eggs.

Myth 7: Lithia Springs Cures Depression

Just west of town are the Lithia Springs. Some folks have been drinking the water for years, claiming the natural lithium cures just about everything that ails. Many old-timers still carry the water home in old milk cartons and insist three glasses a day guarantees longevity. You can see them shoveling their roofs at 95, so there just well may be something to it.


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