Margaret “Maggie” Crawford was Steamboat’s founding mother |

Margaret “Maggie” Crawford was Steamboat’s founding mother

The founding mother of Steamboat Springs took a giant leap of faith in 1873, when she gave in to her husband's wanderlust and agreed to pack her household possessions and three young children into a pair of wagons pulled by oxen, and set out for one of the remaining uninhabited regions in the Rocky Mountains.

Was it purely Maggie Crawford's love for her husband, James, that led her to give up her nicely furnished home, family and friends on a productive Missouri farm. Or was it the late 19th-v-century norm that women followed wherever their husbands led?

And how would 21st-century Steamboat Springs be different had she not agreed to live in a crude log cabin, without another family of European descent within a day's horseback ride?

Her great-grandson, Jim Crawford believes that the willingness of Margaret and James Crawford to homestead in the Yampa Valley and bring their children with them, opened he minds of the next families to come after them were families with children instead of male-dominated expeditions of miners that were typical in some regions of the west.

"From 1876, that first winter in Steamboat, the Woolery’s in 1881, there were no other families that lived here. There were a couple in Hayden and on the Elk River, but none here in Steamboat," Crawford said.

Things began to change when the Perry Burgess family, with a pioneer history in Montana and baking interests on the Front Range of Colorado, located to Steamboat.

Following the "Meeker Massacre" and the banishment of the Utes from Northwest Colorado, families saw that the Crawfords had been here for years and perceived the Yampa Valley to be suitable for families, Jim Crawford said.

"It became known as a place you wanted to bring your family," Crawford said. "John (Jim's grandfather) was 3 months old when they came here. Margaret showed by example that it was possible."

From the perspective of 2017, it's almost eerily familiar, to hear a descendent of James and Margaret Crawford, who takes a scholarly approach to his family history, describe Steamboat Springs a magnet for families.

The first winter in Hot Sulphur Springs

The James and Margaret Crawford family didn't come directly to Steamboat Springs from their farm in Sedalia Missouri. Their granddaughter, Lulita Crawford Pritchett, records their early married life and their trip to Colorado in great detail in her book, "Maggie by My Side." It's just one of several nonfiction and fiction books Pritchett wrote about her family's history.

James Crawford served as a cavalry officer and fought with the Union Army in the Civil War, faithfully writing letters home to the a very young sweetheart back home named Margaret Bourn.

Jimmie, tall for his age, was also underage when he signed up with the Company E of the 7th Missouri State Militia.

When Jimmie came home to Sedalia after the war, he was "sound of both mind and body,” and one month later, he and Maggie were married. Maggie was 16 years old.

They established their own farm close to their families' ranches and, for seven years, lived a prosperous life. Then, Jimmie began to turn his gaze west.

Pritchett records that it was the first day of May 1873 when the Crawfords, with their three small children and accompanied by several other families, left Sedalia, set out across the Great Plains for Denver. It's worth noting that although their migration took place roughly 25 years after the earliest wagon trains set out on the Oregon Trail, the American West had not been settled.

Yet, Pritchett, whom Jim Crawford says was very intent on historical accuracy, wrote that "Indians stampeded their horses on one occasion and the high streams and quicksand made the journey to the new land one to be remembered."

The party arrived in Denver on June 4, 1873, but didn't tarry. The Crawfords made the long climb to Empire (where modern day travelers may choose to leave I-70 for Berthoud Pass) where they remained until December before retreating to the foothills for the winter. Jimmie dabbled in mining but had an undeniable urge to see the land across the Continental Divide in Middle Park.

John Q. Rollins was building a crude road over the top of the mountains and assisted the Crawford wagon (now pulled by a "pair of mules and a span of horses”) by hitching his own team of oxen to the wagon for steep passage. It was the first known time a heavily-loaded wagon had made the trip. The Crawfords brought with them eight cows and calves, according to Pritchett.

Finally the party landed at Hot Sulphur Springs, where the Crawfords camped until a cabin was built. The eldest of the three Crawford children, Lulie was 7, Logan was 5 and John just 18 months old.

Pritchett records that the cabin roof was covered with bark until her grandfather could find the right tree from which to "rive" some boards to cover it. During the summer, she wrote, rain showers were almost a daily occurrence, and the roof was very leaky. The children developed scarlet fever, and a wagon sheet was hung over the bed in a vain attempt to keep them dry.

One of the luxuries in the cabin was a carpet that covered the dirt floor. It was made of elk hides arranged in the same direction so that the hair all faced one way, allowing it to be swept with a broom.

James Crawford was intent on building his cattle herd, which wintered far from the cabin at Hot Sulphur Springs on pasture where the town of Kremmling now stands. It was a situation that often took him away from his family for long stretches, leaving Maggie to fend for herself.

The Colorado River Valley near Hot Sulphur Springs was also a favorite camp of the Utes, who were mostly benign at that time. And Maggie Crawford would get to know them well.

Maggie refused to be intimidated by Ute chief

Soon after the arrival of the family, Pritchett records, two squaws rode up to the camp and started begging for biscuits or "bee-skit," as they pronounced it.

On another occasion when Maggie and the children were alone, when prominent Ute chief Colorow quietly appeared at Maggie's shoulder and demanded that she swap a pony for money, or perhaps, her infant son, John.

Maggie pronounced that she had no money, and when Colorow protested that "Denver women have plenty money," Maggie refused to be intimidated by Colorow, pointing out that she wasn't from Denver.

But not long after, the Utes told the Crawford family that in “one sleep” they must go. They firmly declined to leave their cabin. Even after the Utes' deadline was extended to “one moon,” the Crawfords still refused to leave.

But Hot Sulphur Springs wasn’t the place they had been searching for, and in not too long a time, they would enjoy better relationships with a different band of Utes led by Yahmonite, who had a long tradition of summering in the Yampa Valley.

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James continued his exploration trips from there in search of his future home. In the summer of 1874 while on one of these trips, James gazed for the first time on the magnificent Yampa Valley and knew that his search had ended. Another Missourian, Houston Richardson, was with him on the trip and James urged him to become a partner in the enterprise and locate land. Richardson wanted to return to Missouri and declined the proposal but helped James mark his location and assisted his comrade in building a rude cabin of stones to signify his homestead claim.

When the Crawfords made the permanent move to Steamboat in 1876, they built a more substantial cabin close to modern day Iron Springs Park on the north side of U.S. Highway 40 at 12th Street, before eventually building a grand home of native sandstone in the Romanesque revival style that today is on the National Register of Historic Places. The home, overlooking downtown from the west end of Crawford Street, is owned by Jim Crawford and his wife, Anna Fang.

Maggie insists Steamboat will remain a dry town

Although he got his start in cattle, James Crawford turned out not to be a rancher by nature, but instead, a real estate developer. Together with other prominent men in the community, he founded the Steamboat Town Company, which was created to sell building lots to new arrivals. That was well before Steamboat Springs incorporated as a municipality in 1900.

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And Maggie did her part to ensure that Steamboat would remain a suitable place for families, helping to found more than one church (she never met a religion she didn't like, Jim Crawford quipped about his great-grandmother).

Maggie acquired a Hallett and Cumston upright piano that allowed her to host many musical gatherings for early Steamboat residents and travelers alike.

She also worked to ensure Steamboat didn't become one of those early frontier towns that remain "dry" and family friendly.

She influenced her husband and his development partners to attach a deed restriction to every property they sold that prohibited the owner from making or selling alcoholic beverages.

James Crawford died in 1930 and Maggie in 1939, but their producitive frontier family lifestyle shaped Steamboat Springs forever.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

The Crawford family’s relationship with the native Utes.

Although the Crawfords’ relationship with Colorow’s band of Utes was testy, they enjoyed a much more cordial relationship with Yahmonite’s band, which had been spending summers in the Yampa Valley for many generations.

Nothing bears that out as much as the fact that the Crawford boys’ playmates were Ute boys their age.

The Utes were comfortable visiting the Crawfords and even took part in Steamboat’s first Fourth of July celebration.

James and Margaret’s great-grandson, Jim Crawford, confirms that the story about Yahmonite’s
son shinnying up a makeshift flag pole to attach the American flag for that Independence Day gathering, is factual.

Yet, in the wake of the Sept. 29, 1879 Meeker Massacre on the White River, with James’ away from home getting supplies, Maggie took the precaution of taking her youngsters far up Soda Creek and hiding them in the thick willows until things had calmed down.

Jim Crawford theorizes that because Yahmonite was elderly, they couldn’t count on him to be able to protect them.



Books about the Crawford family
available for purchase at the Tread of Pioneeers Museum in Steamboat Springs include

The Cabin at Medicine Springs by Lulita Crawford Pritchett
Crawford House by James Logan Crawford
Crawford Pioneer Tales by Lulita Crawford Pritchett
Diary of Lulie Crawford by Lulie Crawford
Gilpin Gold by Lulita Crawford Pritchett
Great Good Old Day by John Crawford
Maggie by my Side by Lulita Crawford Pritchett

Also look for :
The Tread of Pioneers – Charles Leckenby