Tales from the Tread: Steamboat’s 1st Fourth of July
- "Crawford Pioneer Tales" by Lulita Crawford Pritchett
- “A Pioneer Steamboat Fourth of July,” Steamboat Pilot, July 2, 1981
- “First Flag Flung to Breeze in Steamboat Springs in 1876,” Steamboat Pilot, July 5, 1959
- “Pioneers Came for Many Miles for Steamboat Fourth of July Celebrations,” Steamboat Pilot, June 25, 1959
The first Fourth of July celebration in Steamboat Springs took place in 1876, 100 years after America declared independence. Colorado was not yet a state, and only a few permanent settlers lived in or near Steamboat. The town’s first settlers, the Crawford family, had probably enjoyed large festivities while living in Missouri, but in 1876, they gathered their few neighbors and the nearby Ute Native Americans to observe the holiday with a simple celebration.
At the time, James and Margaret Crawford and their three children were living in a one-room log cabin located on what is now Oak Street between 11 and 12 streets. As July approached, they received a gift from their friends Perry Burgess and William Walton who were in St. Louis, Missouri. The package contained an American flag, measuring 8 by 14 feet with 37 stars, arranged in two circles around a large central star with a star in each corner.
Lulita Crawford Pritchett, granddaughter of James and Margaret, later recorded in “Crawford Pioneer Tales” how the family was inspired by the gift: “As the Fourth of July approached, [Pa] thought how he could let the beautiful new flag speak for him of the good will he bore his dark-skinned neighbors. He decided to have a flag raising. Selecting a tall lodgepole pine, he chopped it down, trimmed and peeled it, and planted it solidly halfway between the Iron Spring and the claim cabin.”
James Crawford invited the Ute Native Americans who were camped nearby, Mike Farley who had a claim where Pine Grove ranch was later located and Charles and Owen Harrison who lived near where the town of Sidney later grew.
On the Fourth of July, James Crawford carried the flag at the head of a small parade. The group marched together from the Crawfords’ cabin to the new flag pole. When the Crawfords unfolded the flag, the Utes began to withdraw. Lulita observed that they had likely only seen the American flag before at army forts and Indian agencies and probably associated it with unhappy memories. Despite the language barrier, James Crawford reassured the Utes that in this case the flag was a symbol of celebration.
Not only did the Utes remain for the flag raising, they made it possible. Mr. Crawford had made both the pole and wooden pulleys, and the new rope he used knotted up when he tried to raise the flag. Chief Yarmonite brought forward his fifteen-year-old nephew Pahwinta to climb the smooth pole and untangle the rope. Everyone danced and cheered when the flag finally flew from the top of the flagpole.
The Crawford family continued to plan and participate in Fourth of July celebrations in Steamboat Springs for many years. In 1886, The Steamboat Pilot recorded the first newspaper account of an Independence Day celebration in Steamboat Springs, where residents raised a new flag pole and had an ice cream social at the Crawford home. The next year, the Crawfords presented a display of fireworks behind their house for the town. Many people who lived in the surrounding area gathered in Steamboat Springs for Fourth of July parties, which grew bigger and more elaborate each year.
The Crawfords kept that first flag for years after the 1876 celebration.
“The flag flew its welcome there for many a year till it wore out. It was the first thing a traveler from any direction could see, and many were the joyous shouts up and down the trails as roving prospectors, trappers or home seekers sighted it. When at last it had to be retired like an honored soldier, the colors were still bright though some of the threads had broken,” wrote J.H. Crawford’s granddaughter Lulita Crawford Pritchett in “Crawford Pioneer Tales.”
The Tread of Pioneers Museum carries on the spirit of these early Fourth of July traditions by hosting the Pioneer Day Block Party and community concert every year at the museum. We hope you will join us.
Emily Eldridge is an intern with Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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