Tom Ross: Tracing the steps of Routt County pioneer newspapermen

Tom Ross
Tom Ross

— I had the opportunity on Friday to represent the Steamboat Pilot & Today while speaking to the noon lunch bunch at the Tread of Pioneers Museum during the lunchtime series otherwise known as the Brown Bag Lecture Series.

In case you haven’t attended one of the speeches by Routt County residents or people with long ties to Northwest Colorado during the past couple of summers, I would urge you to make a point of attending in summer 2013.

As a result of my research for Friday’s lunch, I have a new, old book to recommend to you written by one of the earliest publishers of the newspaper.

My talk dealt with the founding of the Steamboat Pilot by James Hoyle in 1885 and moved on to Charles Leckenby, who represents three generations of stewardship by the Leckenby family that followed. I also touched on the current owners, the Simons family, of Lawrence, Kan., whose family-owned newspaper has a marvelous history of its own.

Finally, I flashed forward to 2012 and spoke about the future of community newspapers in an era of rapidly changing information technology.

When I think of the family members of true Routt County pioneers who have presented at the museum, I’m made aware of what an honor it was to speak for the newspaper and its historic roots.

During my research for the talk, I had a chance to revisit for the first time in many years an indispensable volume of local history, “The Tread of Pioneers,” written in 1945 by Charles Leckenby and published by the Pilot. The museum first opened in 1959, so if you’re thinking that the title of Leckenby’s book inspired the naming of the museum, hold that thought. We just might get to it on another occasion.

There are three copies of Charlie Leckenby’s book on the shelves of the Bud Werner Memorial Library, and let’s be clear, just one slim chapter is devoted to the history of the newspaper. Leckenby, who played a major role in the creation of the Moffat Tunnel and the arrival of the railroad service to Steamboat, had many interests.

A sampling of the chapters in the book, which takes in all of Northwest Colorado, includes: “The Great Diamond Swindle,” “Two Forgotten Graves” (they are on the island in the Yampa River just west of town) and “Sir George Gore was a Mighty Hunter.”

Leckenby purchased the Steamboat Pilot as a very young man when it was still in its infancy, and his son, Maurice, and grandson, Chuck, followed after him and continued the family’s stewardship of the pioneering newspaper.

There is a wonderful historical anecdote about Charles Leckenby himself and how he first arrived in Steamboat after a journey that began in 1888 and carried well into 1889. He tells it in his book, and I’ll paraphrase it here.

Charles made it as far as Laramie, Wyo., on the railroad, then hitched a ride into North Park on a freight wagon. Veteran North Park newspaperman John Moore sized up the tenderfoot, weighed the knowledge that the Park Range already was white with snow in late October, and urged the young man not to attempt to walk over Buffalo Pass alone.

Instead, Moore summoned Charles’ half-brother Harley Leckenby, already living in Steamboat, and suggested that he fetch his brother.

Harley came across the range from Steamboat Springs, risking his life and taking three days for the trip. The snow was deep and soft, and his homemade skis were not very efficient. He was almost famished when he got to the Chedsey ranch. The only game he spied on the trip was a pine squirrel, which he killed and ate.

The brothers built a small cabin and spent the winter, with a substantial part of their diet consisting of jackrabbits.

The two brothers spent the next summer working for a sawmill in North Park, but in September 1889, they headed west across the mountains. They loaded their bedding and provisions on a burro and crossed Buffalo Pass.

Charles went to work at the newspaper within days of his arrival and ultimately made it his career.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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