Tales from the Tread: 1898 camping trip

It never ceases to amaze me the historical treasures that come through the doors of the Tread of Pioneers Museum on nearly a daily basis. Just this month, a document was given to the museum titled “John Warren Richardson’s ‘Camping in the Colorado Rockies (1898).’” Though we know little about John Warren Richardson, his detailed account reveals a most adventurous trip that started in Boulder and offers a rare glimpse of grandeur and wildness experienced when traveling through isolated Routt County for the first time, at the turn of the last century.

I have included some highlights of the Routt County sections of the document, and you can read the full document at

“… Morning dawned clear and cold, water freezing in our tent. We found ourselves six miles from Steamboat Springs, the road leading through the beautiful Bear River Valley with its wide smooth fields of oats, wheat, and hay, bordered on each side by mountains bare of timber. Steamboat Springs is a lively little place, the center of trade for a wide section of country, with a bank and two or three good stores. After laying in a stock of provisions and articles which we needed before departing from civilization, we visited the springs which have given the place its name. The largest one that we saw, came bubbling up through a ledge of rocks in the bank of the river. One of them, puffing and gurgling at intervals of two or three seconds, making a noise like a small steamboat, probably accounts for the name of Steamboat Springs…The water in those we tasted was about milk warm. In strong contrast is a fine cold soda spring, only a few rods away, which is quite pleasant to the taste. There are one hundred forty of these mineral springs in the immediate vicinity.

Crossing the intervening country to Elk River, we rode up the valley, making wide detours over the hills to avoid low meadows and steep bluffs along the river side. … At nightfall we reached a ford on Elk River near a hay ranch, and decided to camp there until Monday. The ranch house was locked and some boys who were passing by said the owner had gone away. Thinking he might be at home before morning, we decided to take hay for our horses and settle for it afterwards.

The Elk River which flowed by our camp is a beautiful swift stream, clear and cold. … While we were at breakfast, a man came by on horseback and stopped for a drink of coffee. He said he had been riding since three o’clock that morning on his way to attend the annual September term of court at Hahns Peak. All through the day teams were passing on their way to the court which was to open the next morning, nearly all carrying tents, beds and camp equipage.

Just before noon a man with a wagon and pair of horses, stopped near us, and after talking with Mr. B. a few minutes put his fishing rod together, went to the river and soon came back with ten fine trout. We invited him to take dinner with us, and as our cook had gone off fishing, he dressed and cooked the trout himself. We furnished such food as we had, he brought a big frosted cake from his wagon, and we had a fine dinner. He was a bachelor, living alone on a ranch about thirty miles away, and was going to court, being one of the jurors.

At the summit of the divide between the watershed of the Elk and Snake Rivers, Hahns Peak in all its grandeur came suddenly into view. It is a noble mountain, very regular in outline, its summit a smooth cone of white porphyry above timberline, and has the appearance of being covered with snow when seen from a distance with the sun shining on it.

The village of Hahns Peak consists of perhaps thirty buildings large and small, chiefly built of logs. They were mostly empty and deserted previous to this week, the population before the opening of the court numbering less than ten. Yet it was the County Seat of Routt County, having been made so a few years before when it was a booming mining town.

That evening three immense fires on the neighboring mountains covering many miles in extent sent up such volumes of flame and smoke as to remind one of some of the Bible descriptions of the end of all earthly things. The scene was one of world grandeur. No effort was made to check the progress of the fire, the people seeming to take it as a matter of course.”

Candice Bannister is the executive director for Tread of Pioneers Museum.

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