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County’s pioneers picnic

Descendents of settlers gather to eat, reminisce

Jennie Lay

Forty-nine guests signed in at the Pioneer Picnic hosted by the Oak Creek and Phippsburg Historical Society in Oak Creek on Sunday. Some of them had never been to the annual gathering before. Others had been attending as long as they could remember.

But everyone who gathered at picnic tables under the sprawling shade trees at Decker Park had historic ties to Routt County.

And there were plenty of stories to share over a potluck lunch at the traditional picnic that started more than 100 years ago in honor of Northwest Colorado’s pioneers and their descendents. Some of the tales were personal. Many of them were neon signs of the changing times.

Bud Kauffman’s grandfather homesteaded just outside Oak Creek, but Kauffman said Sunday was the first time he ever considered himself a pioneer. He said his grandfather walked to Oak Creek from Leadville, staked his claim, then walked back to Leadville so he could return with his team of horses.

Connie Rauzi’s father and grandfather came to Oak Creek as coalminers in the 1920s.

Louis Bruder was born up the road in Pinnacle, a once-thriving mining camp that no longer exists. His wife, Edwina Bruder, said her grandparents came for the mines near Oak Creek, as well.

Old-timers came from all over Northwest Colorado to share in their ranching, mining and farming heritage. The Montgomerys were there from Yampa. The Greens came from Hayden. Maxine Turner traveled from Craig. The Mongers came down from Steamboat Springs.

Susi Crowner, who married into a Yampa homesteading family that once farmed lettuce and spinach, was there to talk about “life B.C.” Crowner’s own family settled the historic mining town of Mount Harris, which no longer exists, but she grew up in Steamboat. “B.C.” means before change and before condos, she said.

Katherine Gourley grew up on her family’s ranch between Oak Creek and Steamboat. Her family, the Hudspeths, came in 1913 — old-timers she joked, compared to her husband’s family, the Gourleys, who came to ranch in 1914.

Ernie Lombardi’s father came to Phippsburg in 1921 to supply the miners with timber. He used to log in the Muddy Slide area off Lynx Pass.

“We want your stories,” said historic society volunteer Mike Yurich to the aging crowd. “Take them to Steamboat, to Hayden. Take ’em to Yampa. But write them down. Just get the idea down.”

Once upon a time, there were a lot of small, thriving camps and towns in Routt County. Many of the Pioneer Picnic attendees lived in those now-obsolete towns at different times and had vivid memories of those places. For instance, Haybro, now just a house and a Quonset hut in Oak Creek canyon, was once a thriving town with a three-room schoolhouse and three teachers. Kauffman went to school there for eight years.

Historic society volunteer Carol Villa’s house on the hill in Oak Creek was once the old Red Cross Hospital, where several of the picnic attendees were born. They joked about whether they’d been born in her bedroom, her living room or her kitchen.

And for the towns such as Yampa, Oak Creek, Hayden and Steamboat that survived the region’s booms and busts, there were plenty of memories about the way things once worked, especially in Oak Creek where the majority of the picnic attendees hailed from this year.

Oak Creek natives fondly remembered the big Saturday night dances at the Legion Hut with bands and a big stage, though the hut is now gone. There were recollections about skiing the Lions Club rope tow just south of downtown Oak Creek, even though there’s no trace of those runs today. And everyone chuckled over a slot machine heyday in Oak Creek’s restaurants and bars when a Town Board voted them in as a way to raise some extra money — slots they’d had to load into the back of a red truck and park in a barn every time the county sheriff came around.

At the end of the day, the descendents of Routt County’s pioneering spirits packed up their covered dishes and headed off in their own separate ways until next year — when the Pioneer Picnic is set to gather in Steamboat.


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