Tom Ross: Wither family celebrates 125 years in Steamboat Springs during Winter Carnival parade
Steamboat Springs — When the 100th Winter Carnival Diamond Hitch Parade unfurls down Lincoln Avenue on Sunday, one of the floats will carry 20 proud members of the Wither family. Its history in Routt County precedes the first Winter Carnival by a quarter of a century.
The Wither family members riding in a sleigh pulled by draft horses Sunday are descendants of Archibald “Archie” and Pearl Wither, and their progeny have been skiing around the valley for 125 years now.
Archie and his brothers, all natives of Scotland, first arrived in Steamboat in 1888.
In many cities in New England, for example, pioneer families can trace their history in a town much further back than 125 years. But when one considers that the Wither boys arrived here just 12 years after the arrival of the James and Margaret Crawford family, the first Caucasian family here in 1876, you realize that the Wither clan goes back to the early days of Steamboat.
Pete Wither, Archie’s grandson and the former longtime ski patrol director at Steamboat Ski Area, said his late father, Bob Wither, was something of a ski jumping phenom as a youth.
“In 1924, my dad was named the Boy Wonder as he was jumping the large jump on Howelsen Hill at 9 years old,” Pete said.
Pete and his sister, Sally, and brother, John, lost their mother, Sarah Frances Colt Wither, in July. She was 96 and one of the founders of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
The Wither story begins in Scotland
Pete’s cousin Tom Wither, a former Steamboat Springs High School art teacher now living on the Front Range, wrote this week that Archie and his brother George arrived in Steamboat right behind older brothers John and Peter in 1988.
The four Wither brothers, including the youngest, George, spent their early years at Barmore Farm on the southwest coast of Scotland. The farm had been in the possession of the Wither family since 1768, Tom Wither wrote.
The boys’ parents died in 1877, when Archie was 15 and George was 13. Archie managed to acquire an education as a chemist (pharmacist) and worked in London before following his firm’s head chemist to Canada.
It’s not known exactly why all four Wither brothers reunited in Steamboat Springs, but once they arrived here, they got down to work.
“The brothers were instrumental in the early development of Steamboat Springs,” Tom Wither wrote. “With a team of horses, they helped to clear and grade the emerging streets of the town.”
They also helped to construct some of the early buildings.
Sometime in the 1890s, Archie and George set out for the gold mining town of Hahn’s Peak, then the Routt County seat.
Archie and George acquired an existing store in Hahn’s Peak and went into the mercantile business, with George tending the store and Archie freighting the supplies from the nearest railroad junction in Wolcott. It was a four-day journey for Archie and his team of horse to ferry supplies back to Hahn’s Peak.
Archie caught the eye of a young schoolteacher from a ranch in the Snake River Valley of southern Wyoming, Pearl Elmira Carleton. They were wed Dec. 20, 1899, in Columbine. They started a family in a little cabin in Hahn’s Peak, now carefully restored and standing proudly in the historic mining town near Steamboat Lake.
With gold mining on the wane in 1901, the Wither brothers moved back to Steamboat and acquired another mercantile store on Lincoln Avenue and called it A&G Mercantile. It was in Steamboat that Archie and Pearl’s second child, Eva Dorothy Wither, was born.
Dorothy Wither grew up to be a legendary retailer on Lincoln Avenue, with her women’s clothing store, The Dorothy Shop.
My favorite story told by Dorothy was how, in another era when Steamboat still was quite isolated, she made an annual buying trip to Chicago. There, she purchased apparel with specific customers in mind. Upon her return, she telephoned her customers and invited them to come pick up the dress she had selected for them in the big city.
In February 1929, six months before the Great Depression set in, Archie and George amicably severed their business partnership, dividing up more than one store, a ranch, a coal company and even a local onyx mine. George moved to Denver in 1932.
Archie died here in 1947, and Pearl died in 1952. But the Wither clan still is going strong in Steamboat Springs.
Watch for five generations to pass buy in their sleigh during the Diamond Hitch Parade, and welcome them warmly.
They are truly the sons and daughters of pioneers.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com
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Explore a mix of in-person and virtual events happening this weekend in Routt County.