Old elk head hides historic treasure

Tom Ross

Scott Moore, of Mountain Man Taxidermy, in Craig, carefully extracted pieces of a rare 122-year-old newspaper page from the Yampa Valley Democrat from inside the skull of this elk shoulder mount this week and contacted the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
Courtesy photo

A taxidermist in Craig has discovered a rare, 122-year-old copy of an early Steamboat Springs newspaper in a very unlikely place – stuffed inside a bull elk mount.

And no, it’s not a copy of the Steamboat Pilot.

Scott Moore, of Mountain Man Taxidermy, was working to restore the crusty old bull elk shoulder mount this week when he pulled a wad of crumpled newspaper out of the skull of the elk. It turned out to be the first edition of the Yampa Valley Democrat, published by J.W. Gunn, a minister for the Congregational Church in Steamboat, in Jan. 4, 1895.

The newspaper came out in time to report on a raucous New Year’s celebration reporting: “Monday night, while the peaceful residents of Steamboat, wrapped in the covering of their couches, were dreaming of the bountiful New Year tables of their childhood and were strengthening and refreshing themselves for an attack on the monarch of the barnyard on the morrow, some LITTLE boys who MIGHT better have been tucked in their beds some hours before, slipped into the hall, the schoolhouse and the church, and attaching themselves to the bell ropes, awoke the echoes and sleepers of the valley …”

Spoken like a 19th-century pastor.

Moore, who was fascinated by the taxidermy techniques of more than a century ago, also recognized the potential significance of the newspaper and contacted Museum of Northwest Colorado Assistant Director Paul Knowles.

“I’ve never taken apart a mount that old myself; you never know what they used, from newspaper to grass,” Moore said.

He added that, when he first grasped the newspaper to remove it, he realized how brittle it was, but managed to keep two large pieces intact.

“A lot of it literally crumbled into quarter- and dime-sized pieces,” he said.

Knowles, who has been seeking out copies of early newspapers for years, had a sense that the two larger scraps of newsprint, safely stashed in the somewhat grotesque and tattered remains of an old elk mount, could be one-of-a-kind.

“While it may not look like much, this piece of paper represents an all-but-forgotten Yampa Valley newspaper company based out of Steamboat Springs in the 1890s,” Knowles wrote in a Facebook post. “In fact, it is believed to be the only physical evidence remaining from the short-lived publication. Even more extraordinary is that it is labeled “Vol. I. No. 1″ — making this the very first issue, dated Jan. 4, 1895.”

Of course, the Steamboat Pilot is Steamboat’s oldest newspaper; James Hoyle published the first edition July 31, 1885. But, in some ways, the “Democrat” wasn’t a full decade behind, as its first publication date seems to indicate. History records that the Yampa Valley Democrat first began spreading the news as the “Intermountain” in 1889.

Technically, though, the Democrat had only a two-year run before Charlie Leckenby, who acquired the Pilot from Hoyles’ widow, snapped up his competition.

Leckenby, the first of three generations of Leckenby men who would take the helm of the Pilot, describes how he came to acquire the Democrat in his book “The Tread of Pioneers.”

Hoyle died in 1894, and when Charlie Leckenby came to Steamboat to stay, in 1896, he formed a partnership with John Weiskopf to run the Pilot.

“There was no lease or other arrangement; we just ran it, and each partner grabbed all he could, which was not much,” Leckenby wrote in the Tread of Pioneers. “That was unsatisfactory to me, so I bought the Yampa Valley Democrat, the new name for the Inter Mountain, and later, bought the Pilot and consolidated the papers. There was only $100 in cash involved in these transactions, the balance being a note.”

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

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