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Tom Ross: Civil War enabled founder

Jim Crawford, great-grandson of Steamboat Springs founder James Harvey Crawford, describes to an overflow audience at the Tread of Pioneers Museum on Friday how his ancestor's experiences as a young officer in the Civil War shaped his personality. Crawford is wearing cotton gloves to protect love letters from his great-grandfather to his future wife, Margaret, during the war.
Courtesy Photo

If you go

The Tread of Pioneers Museum’s Brown Bag Lecture Series continues at noon Fridays through Sept. 2, at Eighth and Oak streets (unless otherwise noted). The next three lectures are:

■ July 22: Jim Stanko meets the group at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery for a talk about cemetery history and pioneer tales.

■ July 29: Mountaineering pioneer Bob Beverly shares his experiences in the early days of climbing in the Zirkel-Dome Wilderness.

■ Aug. 5: The Tread of Pioneers’ newest exhibit, “Sign of the times: The 1960s” is discussed by a panel of locals in “Sure! I remember the Sixties.”

Online

Find details of how the James and Margaret Crawford family founded Steamboat Springs at http://www.crawfordpioneersofsteamboatsprings.com.

If you go

The Tread of Pioneers Museum’s Brown Bag Lecture Series continues at noon Fridays through Sept. 2, at Eighth and Oak streets (unless otherwise noted). The next three lectures are:

■ July 22: Jim Stanko meets the group at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery for a talk about cemetery history and pioneer tales.



■ July 29: Mountaineering pioneer Bob Beverly shares his experiences in the early days of climbing in the Zirkel-Dome Wilderness.

■ Aug. 5: The Tread of Pioneers’ newest exhibit, “Sign of the times: The 1960s” is discussed by a panel of locals in “Sure! I remember the Sixties.”



Online

Find details of how the James and Margaret Crawford family founded Steamboat Springs at http://www.crawfordpioneersofsteamboatsprings.com.

— James H. Crawford might never have founded Steamboat Springs had it not been for his experiences as a teenage cavalry officer in the Civil War.

Jim Crawford, the great-grandson of James Harvey Crawford, held the rapt attention of an overflow crowd in the Utterback Annex of the Tread of Pioneers Museum on Friday as he read aloud from love letters penned by his Civil War ancestor. The letters were sent to his future wife, Margaret, from Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.

His love for Margaret kept Crawford going during the war, but his experiences leading his company into battle against the Army of the Confederacy developed his natural instincts for leadership, Jim Crawford said. And on a more pragmatic level, his monthly salary of $70 bankrolled first the purchase of his farm in Missouri and subsequently his decision to move his family, including three children, by wagon to the wilderness of the Yampa Valley and a log cabin on a 160-acre homestead.

“The war was his coming of age,” Jim Crawford said. “He went in (Feb. 10, 1862) as a boy of 16 and came out (April 14, 1865) as a young man of 20. It was his education. He never went to high school.

“He learned horsemanship, how to sleep on the ground and go hungry sometimes while he worked. It taught him how to deal with other men. After the war, he was always a leader … he never followed. He didn’t care what other people thought. He took his wagon and family out to the wilderness. He was a leader his whole life.”

Jimmy Crawford, as his great-grandson calls him, signed up for the Union Army in Missouri on Feb. 10, 1862, without his parents’ prior knowledge at age 16, even though minimum enlistment age was supposed to be 18.

In a letter to another relative, he wrote that the enlisting officer never asked his age, he just put down 18.

“I was large for my age,” he wrote.

It would be an understatement to say he took to the 7th Missouri Cavalry. Four months after his enlistment, he was made a second sergeant, and within another four months, at age 17, he was promoted to first lieutenant. Later, when his captain became ill, he assumed leadership of his company.

In a letter to his parents, he described an engagement in which he helped lead 1,000 Union soldiers, who ultimately were beaten back by a force of 5,000 Confederate soldiers.

“I drew my sword and led the charge,” he wrote home.

In a later letter to another relative, he promised that he had conducted himself honorably during his campaigns, and his “morals had not been corrupted.”

Jim Crawford read a letter in which his great-grandfather wrote that he had “met the rebels on equal ground and dyed his saber in their blood.”

The tone of his letters home to Margaret was tenuous at first. They had been neighbors all their lives, and she recalled recognizing the bare footprints the older boy left in the dust as he preceded her on the way to school.

Margaret was only 13 when Jimmy enlisted in the Union Army, and the salutations in his earliest war letters went something like “My dearest friend” and gradually evolved into “Emmy (a nickname) Mine alone …”

He sought to protect her from details of his engagements and wrote of his yearning for the time when “sweet peace will reign throughout the land.”

He also wrote of her letters to him: “If you only knew how happy they’ve made me, you would write every day.”

As soon as he mustered out of the Army in St. Louis, Jimmy used a portion of his pay to buy a new suit and a wedding band. The two were married several weeks later, and $1,500 of the Army salary went to buy a farm neighboring that of relatives.

They started a family and farmed in Missouri for seven years before the urge to migrate west took hold of Jimmy Crawford.

But that’s a story that must be left for another occasion.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com


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