Pilot Proud: Steamboat Pilot logs the course of the community through the sea of time
Paul and Ellen Bonnifield
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Saturday, April 25, 2020, edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today logged a heavy sea in time and place. Lincoln Avenue was nearly deserted, and the front door at Winona’s stood ajar, held open by a trash can.
The accompanying story told of businesses and owners courageously seeking a course through the violent winds of COVID-19. Jamie McQuade, her restaurant, her neighbors’ businesses, her city, her county are threatened as never before. They can only grin and bear it and hope for the best.
The ship’s log, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, has kept a careful record of the journey through time. The first edition printed on July 31, 1885. The paper, aptly named the Steamboat Pilot, directs the ‘Boat through troubled water and dangerous shoals.
The founder, James Hoyle, was a veteran newsman, who developed lead poisoning from setting type that later turned to tuberculosis. He and his wife, Jane, and daughter Mary bravely sought a safe haven. They thought the medicinal waters of Steamboat’s springs might return him to health, and the new country promised opportunity.
The Burlington Railroad was actively constructing over the Continental Divide west of Denver and through Byers Canyon. With the arrival of the railroad, the isolated empire would become a mecca of activities. But, fate had another plan.
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Two years later, the Burlington stopped construction, and Hoyle’s health continued to fail. He died Dec. 9, 1894, at his homestead on Walton Creek near Pine Grove, and John Weiskopf continued the paper.
In 1889, Charles Leckenby, a boy with only three years of formal education, walked over Buffalo Pass. Soon, he took the helm of the Pilot, and along with various partners, guided it for the remainder of his life. What an exciting voyage he logged.
It was, and still is, a paper of the people.
In the early years, new livestock brands were reported along with all city and county business. The Pilot covered the comings and goings of people and their sins both great and small. Ranch auctions were always festive occasions. School activities and the excitement of Gore League ball games were favorite reads. A quick search of pages told of doctors and patent medicines along with those who failed to pay their taxes.
It recorded the normal life of the Yampa Valley.
The Steamboat Pilot logged major upheavals and played a role in them. It recorded the arrival of the Denver Northwestern and Pacific, the first automobiles, the construction of a highway over Rabbit Ears Pass, the first airplane and the first jet.
The ship’s log is the record of every Winter Carnival, Olympic skier and Mount Werner. The paper stood shoulder to shoulder with our men and women when they fought in foreign lands. It chose sides in the bloody labor wars. It championed War Bond drives, scrap iron drives and food rationing.
The paper opposed the KKK but said nothing when Japanese coal miners were forced from Oak Creek or about the racism against African Americans at Mount Harris. The pages of the ship’s log have recorded the hardship of financial ruin and the birth and death of citizens and towns and the human disaster of pandemics past and present.
Over the past century plus, numerous newspapers have come and gone, yet, the Steamboat Pilot & Today continues its mission of logging the course of Steamboat Springs and Routt County through the sea of time.
Paul and Ellen Bonnifield are longtime residents of Yampa and avid historians. In 2019, the couple received the prestigious Leckenby Award.
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