Tales from the Tread: Museum honors locals for Women’s History Month

Marjorie Perry, right, and Carl Howelsen, center.
Courtesy of the Tread of Pioneers Museum

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, the Tread of Pioneers Museum has hosted an array of programs and events over the years to honor the local women who shaped the history of Routt County. 

We heard the stories of two notable local women at the Historic Agriculture in the Yampa Valley event Monday with the Community Agriculture Alliance and the Bud Werner Memorial Library. Nadene Utter Arroyo and Verna Decker Whaley shared their experiences growing up in Routt County when most tasks were done by hand, neighbors pitched in at harvest time and square dancing through the night at the county’s one-room schools was the highlight of the summer.

Going back in time, a standout in Routt County history was Marjorie Perry. Known widely as the sister of Charlotte Perry, co-founder of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in Strawberry Park, Marjorie was among many things, the adventurous close friend of Carl Howelsen, the Norwegian stone mason and ski jumper who founded Steamboat’s ski jumping legacy, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Winter Carnival and more.

The following first person narrative was created from research preserved in the Tread of Pioneers Museum archive.

My father’s business was in coal. Not as a miner, mind you, but as the owner of several mines. That’s what brought my family to Colorado — pop ran mines in Evanston, Illinois where I was born in 1882, and when we moved to Denver, pop bought a mine near Oak Creek.

I attended Smith College, and I liked the classes there more than I liked stuffy high society. When I graduated in 1905, I headed back to Colorado in search of mountains and open spaces. My brother Robin was managing papa’s coal mine, and in 1913 my sister Charlotte opened the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs. I went hunting.

I learned to hunt when I was 16, when my brother and I went deer hunting. I did everything myself, including skinning the animal and hanging it to cure. I loved the mountains and skiing. On a trip through Hot Sulphur Springs, I saw Carl Howelsen jump at a Winter Carnival, and I just knew he’d love our town. So I persuaded him to come to Steamboat Springs, where everyone was astounded by his skiing and jumping feats. The rest, they say, is history.

Carl often took groups of ladies skiing, and I was always among them. We called ourselves the Ladies Recreation Club. I just thought he was the bee’s knees, as we used to say then, and I never missed an opportunity to glide alongside him over the snow. Our skiing expeditions into the mountains are some of my favorite memories. When he returned to Norway we corresponded, until his letters became infrequent.

In the summers I would often ride my horse from our family’s Denver home all the way to Steamboat Springs — a week-long adventure I loved. On horseback I’d explore the mountains around Steamboat all summer long, and several little nooks became my favorites. One was in the Zirkels above Luna Lake; that’s where I built my little cabin. We called it “Lunatic Lake.” I selected a fir tree so massive, it only took that one tree to build my little one-room retreat. Then there was Gypsy’s Hideout on Copper Ridge, just west of Strawberry Park. There was a little lake there, and in the evenings I liked to sit with my dog and watch the sunset and the mountains reflected in my lake. This was my own “Walden Pond.”

I knew these mountains so well that my sister Charlotte asked me to be the head horse wrangler for her girls’ performing arts camp. It was at this time that I met my life-long companion, Eleanor Bliss. She fell in love with horses as a camper at P-M, and we went on many horseback adventures together including the week-long trips from Steamboat Springs to Denver. We traveled the world too, and always were happy to come home in the summers to beloved Steamboat Springs.

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

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