Pioneer Campbells and McPhees took different routes to North Routt |

Pioneer Campbells and McPhees took different routes to North Routt

Tom Ross
Shaunna Watterson served her audience at the Tread of Pioneers Museum lemon ice similar to the variety her grandmother used to make before speaking about her family's pioneer history in Routt County during the penultimate entry in the 2016 Brown Bag Lecture Series.
Tom Ross

— Shaunna Watterson entertained her audience at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs Aug. 26 with stories of how her forebears, the McPhees and Campbells, came to Colorado to homestead in the late 19th century. But first, she literally chilled audience members out with icy cups of her grandmother Gertrude “Gert” Campbell Farrell’s hand-cranked lemon ice.

“It was a tradition every Fourth of July and Christmas,” Watterson said.

The tart treat, made from both lemons and lemon extract, was emblematic of pioneer days, which extended into the early 1900s in the Yampa Valley. It was an era when citrus fruit was scarce and obtaining it might mean a multi-day trip to Grand Junction.

Watterson was rewarded with knowing smiles from audience members when she described growing up in Old Town Steamboat in the 1950s as a “free-range child,” with both sets of grandparents — the Farrells, Gert and Joseph, and the Campbells, Grover and Isabelle McPhee Campbell — close at hand.

However, it was Watterson’s great-great aunt Jessie McPhee who lived to be 97, when Watterson was entering her 20s, who passed on the earliest family history.

“She was smart as a tack and could pull up names of people who died 80 years ago and tell you all about them,” Watterson said.

Watterson’s ancestor John McPhee and his family left the Loch Ness area of Scotland in 1775 bound for New York on a ship called the Glasgow. In a coincidence that altered family history for generations, the Glasgow arrived shortly after the American Revolution began with the Battle of Lexington.

The McPhees and their fellow passengers from Great Britain never disembarked in New York and went instead to Nova Scotia where they became loyalists fighting against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. The family remained there for a century and are believed to have made their livings in the Renfrew gold mining district.

So, it made sense that when Henry McPhee, the youngest member of his family, emigrated to Colorado in 1875, he went to Leadville. He is known to have been among those responding to the Homestake Mining Disaster when 10 men, three of them from Renfrew, were lost in a massive avalanche.

Henry married his wife, Carrie Mae, in Leadville, and in 1898, they moved to Routt County where Henry ranched in the upper Elk River Valley. They built a handsome home, just south of modern day Clark, that is still occupied to this day.

Watterson’s great-great grandfather Angus Campbell, his wife and six children, Shaunna’s great grandfather Grover among them, came to Colorado from Nebraska, landing in a lumber camp in Breckenridge. Between 1910 and 1915, Angus and two of his sons came on to Routt County where they homesteaded on Deep Creek.

Angus founded the Routt County Lumber Company and landed a contract to deliver timber for the Moffat (railroad) Tunnel. He based 10 heavy horse-drawn freight wagons in Egeria Canyon in order to fulfill his contract. Grover found similar work, hauling timber off Sand Mountain and delivering it to tie-hackers building the railroad.

Watterson’s enduring memory is the comfort of growing up with both sets of grandparents living within a few blocks.

“It was very special to be able to grow up in old Steamboat and have that many relatives nearby,” she said.

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

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.