A San Juan Tapestry Project
By gathering as many stories, photographs, and mementos that celebrate this area from 1874 and before to here and now, the Hinsdale County Historical Society and Lake City DIRT teamed up to preserve the richness that has shaped this secret part of the vast San Juan. Their goals included establishing a web presence, using collected materials to celebrate the history of Lake City through the lives of those who love it, and publishing a picture and history-laden coffee table book that will be both timeless and timely.
Below are a few items submitted to the project:
Memoir: The Californian
Letters from Ann Bowling, September 30, 2009
One fall day my husband, Dewey, and I decided to drive up Cinnamon Pass to enjoy the autumn scenery.
We had driven quite a way when we saw a man walking down the road toward town carrying some large heavy packages. We stopped to inquire and found that he was a photographer from California who, trying to get to Montrose to visit his son had taken the “short cut” over Cinnamon. He had made it to the top, but had become mired in the snow and mud and could not drive out. He carried all the equipment he could and left the rest in his SUV on the mountain.
We loaded him and his equipment into the car and turned back toward Lake City. Dewey made him coffee as he was very cold and I started trying to find some help for him.
First I tried Weem’s gas station, but his wrecker was in the shop in Montrose. Mr. Jacobs at the other station could not help. Jerry and Elaine Gray lived at that time above the Black Crooke. His jeep was out of commission and his winch broken. I was sent to Mr Wilcox who was working that day on a large machine moving rocks near the Country Store.
When I called to him he couldn’t hear me for the noise, but he shut down his machine to talk to me. When I told him the problem he said he would get some help and come by the house.
And he did. Although it was beginning to snow they came by and the three of them started up Cinnamon.
When they arrived at the top of the pass and tried to move the car they found he had burned up the transmission trying to get out. They all came back with as much photography equipment as they could carry.
The next morning, in the snow, with chains and winch, they brought that car down Cinnamon Pass! How they managed it I will never know. We all drunk hot chocolate and celebrated. When asked the charge they just laughed and said “no charge”.
The photographer stayed several days with us until his son could come from Montrose and tow him away. I still receive Christmas Cards from him.
What marvelous folks we have here in Lake City!
Letters from Ann Bowling, September 30, 2009
Although growing up in Colorado, and camping much of my life, I had never had a confrontation with a bear in the wild. When camping, we always kept our fish and other food outside the tent in an ice chest with a heavy rock or two on top to discourage the small animals who range through the campgrounds at night.
One day some years ago while camping on Cebolla Creek, my husband, Dewey, met his first bear. That day he and I and the two boys had made a trip to Lake City for gas and a few groceries, and perhaps a strawberry soda at the drug store. The boys, a little tired of eating fish every day, found, in Murphy’s store, a tall, lovely can of Ravioli just waiting to be devoured by two hungry boys.
In a moment of weakness I bought them the ravioli. (The “you catch it, you eat it” rule was understood, as we were only allowed a specified number of fish each day, and with 4 fishermen it meant eating fish every day or not fishing.)
They warmed the ravioli on the fire that evening. After they had eaten about half the can I suggested they save the rest for the next day. The half-full can was lovingly placed in the ice chest under the cold bags of fresh fish, and after placing the heavy rocks on top we crawled into our sleeping bags.
It must have been early morning when I heard my husband exclaim “you didn’t put the rocks on the ice chest! Do you hear that?” He unzipped the tent door and went out. After a few moments he came running back in, exclaiming “It’s a bear! It’s a d___ bear!” He ran from the tent, pistol in hand. He looked at the bear standing on his hind legs, holding the empty Ravioli can in his paw, and the bear looked back. After a few long moments the bear growled a loud growl, got down on all fours, and left to check the next camper, leaving untouched fish lying on the ground.
I guess bears, like boys, get tired of fish every day!
Memoir: Over the Limit
Letters from Ann Bowling, September 30, 2009
Our family loved to camp on Cebolla Creek. When we would visit my husband Dewey’s aunt and uncle in Pensacola, Fla, we would fish with them, but tell them our trout were much better. Finally the day came when they were able to visit us and drive with us to Colorado. We had two cars, but only one tent. On the way we stopped at a motel where we all became terribly ill with “the bug”. We couldn’t eat-and had no desire to.
As soon as we were able to travel we drove to our favorite campground on Cebolla Creek. My husband, Dewey, then drove me and the children to Fruita, Co to visit while he camped out with Uncle Mac and Aunt Virgie. For a few days Dewey fished and they ate the fish he caught. They were kept in an ice chest covered with a wet cloth until ready to cook.
On about the third day when Dewey came back to camp the game warden, Mr. Houston, was in camp with his supervisor from Denver. They asked to see Dewey’s fish, and he showed them to them – just the day’s limit. When they remarked on the size of the fish & said what nice fish they were, Aunt Virgie said, “you think those are nice, you should see the ones we have in the ice chest!”
Of course she showed them the chest full of fish – 81 of them – that she and Uncle Mac had caught and saved the days Dewey was fishing. He had no idea they were even fishing! Mr. Houston, Dewey, and the man from Denver drove into Lake City where Dewey went before the judge and paid $81 for 81 illegal fish. He had $85 so wasn’t he lucky?
Memoir: Lake City School Bus
Submitted by Terry K. Morrow
To live in Lake City in the winter of 1991 and go to school past the 6th grade, one had to ride the Lake City school bus to Gunnison-55 miles away.
My son, Ryan, was a freshman and attending Gunnison High School. We got up at 5am to get a quick breakfast in before catching the bus in front of the Milski's Lake City Cafe. This is where all the 'downtown' kids would meet. I remember one morning Ryan and I both sleeping through the 5am alarm (imagine that!) Well, we had a very considerate bus driver named Burton Smith who decided Ryan shouldn't miss school that morning and so he proceeded to drive the bus right up to the front door of our home, honking the horn on the bus and flashing all the lights into the window at 5:55 am! Just barely awake, I fell out of bed and rushed downstairs to see what on Earth was going on to find one Burton Smith just laughing his head off! Ryan made it to school on time. Thanks Burton!
Another morning, I recall walking with Ryan and Kristyn to the bus stop on our first snow day to find another Gunnison High School student who missed her alarm running to the bus from the Lake City Cafe still in her cute little pajamas, with pillow under her arm and bare feet in the snow, one Samar Bannister. Run Samar Run!
Memoir: An Old Man’s First Memories of Lake City
by Richard La Sance
In 1947, my father’s doctor told him he needed to take a month off from work and relax. He had been to Lake City the year before and wanted to come back, so the day after my school was out for the summer we began our adventure. We had a 1941 Ford two-door sedan and limited funds, no camping equipment except a Coleman stove so innovation was required. We made a two-person sleeping bag by sewing a couple of quilts together. The front seat had independent bucket seat backs, which we removed and used as a bridge between the front and back seats bottoms. We made a box to fit on the floor between the front and back seat that would keep the seat backs from falling to the floor and made a less than level bed out of the seats. When we went to bed, we removed the seat backs, rolled out our sleeping bag, and emptied our pockets – placing the contents on the area below the back window. The box additionally served as a storage place for cans of Campbell Pork and Beans, Spam, etc. – our meals, excluding what we caught. Basically, we had fish three times a day.
The trip lasted six weeks, during which we supplemented our regular fish and canned-goods diet with hamburgers twice. Our other expenditure was gasoline, which at that time ran in the area of 13-cents a gallon or less. On Mondays, we washed our clothes by boiling water in a dish pan over a campfire and erecting a clothesline for drying. Daily bathing in a Colorado stream was, to say the least, an experience not to be forgotten. While in the Lake City area, we camped on the Cebolla River at the Hidden Valley Campground and in a cottonwood grove off of County Road 30, just south of Lake San Cristobal. The Red Mountain Gulch Day Area did not exist at that time.
The Central District of Lake City has not changed much since 1947, but the ownership of the businesses has changed a number of times. The Boettchler Building, Southern Vittles and the Back Country Navigator are new. The buildings that currently house Murphy Realty and Mean Jeans replace a group of quaint cabins that to me were more representative of the city. Lake City had limited electrical power, which to my memory was supplied by an individually owned diesel power plant and a gas generator. Twenty-five-watt lights were the maximum in use, with most of the power going to merchants needing refrigeration. At nine o’clock the lights wet out most nights.
Phone service was limited and was housed in the location of the current Smoke Shack Restaurant. The switchboard had many wires with which the operator connected the calling party with the party called. If we wanted to place a long distance call to Mother, it was necessary to come to the phone company and the call’s duration was limited. The original switchboard is currently located in the Lake City Museum.
Radio reception was nonexistent in the mountains until after dark or until you could find the perfect rock to set the radio on for reception. My dad liked to listen to the boxing matches at the time, frequently between the World Champion Joe Lewis and Jersey Joe Walcott. Mike Pavich owned the grocery store, liquor store, and had a theater located at the present Mary Stigall Theatre. We would go to the grocery store on fight nights as did many of the local citizens. Mr. Mike, as he was known I believe, was also the Mayor and always wore a white shirt with a narrow black tie. Our first hamburgers came after a number of weeks of only fish, beans and spam as our diet. We purchased hamburger meat at Mr. Mike’s, cooked it to just beyond raw, and had a fine meal.
One of Mike’s sons, Jesse, and his family owned the soda fountain located in the same location as the current soda fountain. We got there infrequently, as we ate mostly what we caught. A very nice lady, Mrs. Craig, owned what I recall was a drug store located in the current Lake City Shirt Company building. The Elk Horn Saloon, later to become a leather goods store, is now the location of the bank.
Camping in the cottonwood grove near us was Ernie Crumb and his wife. I loved to sit around the campfire and listen to Ernie’s stories. He had driven the stage between Rifle and Meeker; and, according to him, one winter night was so cold that, upon arrival, they had to lift him out of the boot. Another job he had was snowshoeing across country inspecting phone lines. Not sure when and where that took place. He also told of the time his tonsils swelled and became infected. He purported to go to a doctor who painted his tonsils with silver iodide. After leaving the office and reaching the street, he threw his tonsils up in the street.