Tales from the Tread: Rebuilt pioneer wagon on display

Nadine Utter Arroyo
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Nadine Arroyo in front of her newly rebuild family wagon that transported her descendants from Iowa to Routt County via Oklahoma and Denver in the early 1900s. The wagon is now on display at the Tread of Pioneers Museum until Sept. 6.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/Courtesy photo

The Sam Utter family left Tracy, Iowa, in the fall of 1900 with nine people and two wagons. The family included my Grampa Sam, Gramma Louise and their seven kids, plus one on the way. They traveled to Pawn Creek, Oklahoma where Sam found employment constructing bridges for the highway department.

Travel was slow and dangerous on the journey to Oklahoma and then on to Routt County, but they were determined and persistent in achieving their goal of settling in a new frontier. When they got to Denver there was too much snow on the wagon roads to get over the mountain passes, so the family stayed in Denver that first winter and grandpa got a job in a livery stable. Grandpa Sam had heard that Steamboat Springs was being settled, but there were still homesteads available. So, after the snow melted and they were able to start traveling again, they left Denver with the two covered wagons, two teams of horses, the mule, and now eight kids.

It was a hard trip; the adults and the kids that were old enough walked most of the way, but there was still a lot of snow on the wagon trails. There weren’t any roads, just trails that had been made by the wagons that had come before them. In cases where they came to a steep hill, they could only bring up one wagon at a time. They would have to unhitch a team of horses from one wagon, put two teams on one wagon and pull that wagon up the hill. Then they would unhitch the two teams, take them back down the hill and go get the other wagon and pull it up.

When they first arrived in Steamboat Springs on June 2, 1902, they camped along the Yampa River. Steamboat Springs was a very small town and had very few buildings. Grandpa went into the land title office to make the application for 160 acres to homestead. He wanted to have some acreage along the river, but by the time he made application, that land had already been homesteaded. So he got as close as he possibly could and he settled in the Cow Creek area, and that’s where the ranch still is today.

Once in Routt County, Sam Utter was a sheep man who owned many sheep and had grazing permits in Routt National Forest. Life was not easy for those raising sheep in a cattleman’s world in Routt County. He was very vocal about his desire to raise sheep, and he wrote articles for the local newspaper suggesting how the two entities (sheep and cattle ranchers) could survive in this vast land together.

The Utter family was and still is a hardworking family. We are adventurous, loving, and determined. We have covered many frontiers with more to come. Our code has always been to help others realize their dreams and goals in life.

It has always been my goal to rebuild the wagon my descendants relied on to travel west. I hope future generations can appreciate the efforts our grandparents put forth to make a better life for us — they sacrificed much to do so. Wizard Woodworks from Hamilton, Colorado, rebuilt the the Utter wagon you can now see on display in front of the Tread of Pioneers Museum until Sept. 6.

I hope this wagon will help people realize how different travel was by horse and wagon when compared to our modern day means of transportation. If restoring this wagon makes just one person want to learn more about their heritage, then the project was well worth the time and effort it took to get it completed. Pioneer folks were resilient and determined, and I hope today’s generations will strive to achieve some of these same traits.

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