In 1889, Austrian immigrant John Summer moved his large family from Empire, Colorado, to a homestead in the small town of Sidney, 8 miles south of Steamboat Springs. At that time, the town of Sidney consisted of a saloon, a post office and a few cabins.
Tales from the Tread
Tales from the Tread columns publish the first and third Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today.
After the family’s home was completed and the land was cleared, the hard-working family produced oats, barley, wheat and potatoes. They also raised cattle and began a dairy farm. The 12 Summer children soon learned that hard work and sound farming practices could yield a life for their family in this rugged part of the state.
John’s son, Louis Summer, paid particular attention to the family’s ranching methods. Throughout his youth, he worked for neighboring ranches where he gained valuable insight into soil care and breeds of livestock.
During the Great Depression, Louis, along with countless others, lost his savings and went broke when the cattle market collapsed. After working his own land nearby, Louis, his wife, May, and their two children, Evelyn and Vernon, eventually moved back to his parents’ original homestead property and rented land from his father, John Summer.
While living on the original Summer family homestead, Vernon learned ranching's best practices and gained a love and devotion to the land just like his father and grandfather before him. Vernon and Louis worked side by side on the ranch for decades, and after Louis’ death, Vernon continued on the family ranch until shortly before he died in 2012.
“Over the years, Vernon received numerous awards for his care of the land. All of these awards only begin to acknowledge the rancher who has been such a careful custodian of the land and has done so much to preserve the heritage of the Yampa Valley,” wrote Allan White and Jane McLeod, executors of the Summer estate and Vernon’s close friends.
After Vernon’s death in 2012, the Tread of Pioneers Museum received more than 200 objects from the now 125-year-old ranch. Many of these treasures are on display in the current Foundations of Steamboat exhibit featuring the Summer family (through the end of January). One of the most significant items from the estate was the handwritten memoir of Louis Summer that he started writing in 1945, describing his life beginning in 1876.
This incredible first-hand account became a priority project of the Tread of Pioneers Museum staff. The museum immediately hired longtime local, Cheri Daschle, to transcribe the memoir and local editor and journalist, Jennie Lay, for edits and layout.
The transcription project now is complete and available to the public in hard copy format and on the museum’s website, www.treadofpioneers.org.
The museum also has shared the transcribed memoir with many organizations affiliated with the Summer family, including the Bud Werner Memorial Library.
“This is quite a memoir. It sure gives an impression of how hard life was at times, with the fighting, threats, broken bones, pneumonia, working for little or no pay and the two out-right shootings,” said James L. Crawford, a Steamboat Springs historian.
We hope you will take a journey back in time to the earliest days in Northwest Colorado and read these first-hand accounts of true Routt County pioneers.
Sources: “The Summer Ranch” by Jane McLeod and Allan White and "Foundations of Steamboat: The Summer Family Exhibit," Tread of Pioneers Museum
Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.