Tales from the Tread: Modern day Annie Oakley

Ida Younger, from left, Brenda Burbach and Cookie Lockhart pose at the “Lilies of Our Valley” book signing and art opening event at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in 2006. (Photo courtesy of the Tread of Pioneers Museum)

“No wonder I can shoot. I’ve got outlaws on one side of the family and (American) Indians on the other.”

— Ida Younger

As we move toward March, Women’s History Month, we pay tribute to the women of Routt County who carved their own paths and made history in a time and place that made it extremely difficult — and at times impossible. We honor the school teachers and superintendents like Emma Peck, who gave a lifelong commitment to the education and betterment of our children. We remember the leaders in arts and culture like Charlotte Perry, Portia Mansfield, Eleanor Bliss and more. We celebrate the brave and the bold Ida Younger.

Born in 1927, Younger’s life story was influenced by controversy on both sides of her family. Her full-blooded Cherokee grandpa was known as a horse thief, and her great-great uncles on the other side of her family were the infamous outlaws, the Younger brothers, who were sidekicks of Jesse James. Younger’s father gave her a pistol from the motley crew.

“I was raised to think they were Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor,” Younger said.

Originally from Elmo, Missouri, Younger began her own trailblazing path at an early age. At 14, after an argument with her mother, Younger packed up her saddle and her 22 rifle and ran away to the carnival. After finding out the carnival was dishonest, she hitchhiked to Yuma, Arizona, where she found a job trimming lettuce and washing grapefruit.

Lonely and disappointed at Christmastime, Younger was picked up by a policeman who had recently lost his own daughter. Instead of arresting the young runaway, he took Younger home to his wife. It was here with this kind couple that Younger first thought about becoming a police officer. After three months living with the family, Younger’s need for freedom and adventure beckoned her to leave.

Younger’s own wild past included a stint with a homeless men’s camp near the city dump, time working in California and an appendicitis surgery in Baggs, Wyoming, where she snuck out of the hospital early to evade the bill. Suffering an infection, she was forced to call her brother Charlie, who took her into his home in Oak Creek. Younger, just 16 years old now in 1943, began bartending in this wild western town that was in a mining boom with more than 23 taverns.

After living in Phippsburg with her parents, she eventually moved on to Denver and began her path to become a police officer. To gain experience, she started as a store detective, catching shoplifters and other thieves of all varieties. Though the job was often risky and violent, she was a natural and caught some well-known and ruthless criminals, including one man who was wanted for conspiracy to overthrow the government. For this, Younger received national newspaper attention.

By 1958, she received her high school degree and earned her dream to become one of just a handful of Denver’s female peace officers. She served 17 years as a Sheriff’s Deputy and 13 as Denver County Court Marshall. Over the years, she spent some time in Routt County in her home on Morrison Creek, hunting and fishing on the weekends. Her parents were longtime residents of Phippsburg.

After a full career in law enforcement that gave her the life of excitement she sought, Younger retired from the force in 1988 known as one of the best pistol shots in the world. From age 6, Younger was a sharpshooter with a rifle, and her pistol shot earned her more 2,000 awards and trophies, including the National Policewoman’s Championship. She was the first person from Colorado, male or female, to be honored with the NRA’s Police Distinguished Pistol Badge. Though outlaws and lawlessness may have been her bloodlines, Ida Younger thrived on the right side of the law.

Author’s note: Ida Younger currently lives in Fruita. She is 92.

Candice Bannister is the executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum. Article is sources from “Lilies of our Valley: Stories of Routt County Women,” by Marles Humphrey.

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