Tread of Pioneers Museum: Mad Creek History, Part 2 |

Tread of Pioneers Museum: Mad Creek History, Part 2

Candice Bannister
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Heintze family in front of their house above Mad Creek, circa 1915.
Tread of Pioneers Museum/courtesy

Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part series about the history of the Mad Creek area.

On Aug. 7, my Tales from the Tread column featured Part 1 of Mad Creek area history. I told the story of Donna Heintze Davis coming to the museum in summer 2018, with various artifacts, photos and history pertaining to the area, including the Mad Creek Guest Ranch brochure.

Her visit and treasure trove led museum staff and volunteers to research the area utilizing Heintze family accounts and digitized historic newspapers. The Part 1 article explored the extensive and fascinating guest ranch history that once existed on the banks of Mad Creek by the bridge from approximately 1928 to 1951.

Donna Heintze Davis’ family homesteaded the area above Mad Creek from 1915 to 1944. The ranch is located high up on the hill off the now steep U.S. Forest Service road that connects Mad Creek with Routt County Road 129.

Robert Conrad Heintze, Davis’ grandfather, came to Steamboat Springs from the Denver/Boulder area in spring 1913. He brought his “steam car” (a Stanley Steamer) and used it to deliver mail from Steamboat Springs to Craig and back; it was just one of five cars in town at that time.

Heintze, his wife Elizabeth, and their two young children, Cornelius, or “Corky,” and Aurelia, rented a home in Steamboat. In 1915, Heintze traded his car for 360 acres above Mad Creek. Soon, they added more acreage and another little girl to their family, Mary.   

To say the area that comprised the Heintze homestead is remote and difficult to access would be an understatement. As I spent the better part of the day hiking with Davis to the homestead site — four hours round-trip loop from Mad Creek trailhead — I could hardly imagine riding on a wagon, sled or horse up and down the extremely steep “road” daily to sell the family’s cream and eggs or the miles and weather encountered on horseback just to go to school each day.

Heintze wrote in his journals, “It was surely tough to school these kids, but we did not do too bad. These poor kids rode horses five miles (over Red Dirt Trail to the Clark school) and many times it was 35 to 40 degrees below zero.”

The ranch was composed of a house, barn and a collection of typical outbuildings for livestock and other animals. At one time, the family had 200 cattle on their ranch and rented additional land on the Elk River to produce hay.

The Heintze family grew or hunted most of their food, and a cellar provided year-round storage. They raised cows, pigs and chickens and supplemented their diet with bear, elk and deer. They built their two-bedroom frame house with locally-milled lumber, notable, since all of the materials had to be transported to the extreme ranch location. The house is now collapsed and most of the outbuildings are nonexistent, but I was struck by the family’s rhubarb that continues to grow wildly.

In his journals, Heintze wrote about his wife Elizabeth’s trip to Denver and her tragic death on Feb. 5, 1936. She had been hit by a car after getting off the bus in Broomfield. The realities of isolated ranch life dug in even more deeply:

“I had no phone on the ranch, but word had to get to me, so the best the phone company could do was get ahold of Mr. (Fred) May down on the river … Mr. May came up to my place afoot carrying a lantern at 10 o’clock at night. Just put yourself in my place. Just that very morning I had put that woman on the train as well as I ever saw her, and 10 o’clock at night she was a corpse. This might make you think.

 “Well, from here on out, things never worked out any more. As soon as my two (youngest) children were getting pretty well grown, they got it in their heads they could do better elsewhere. The land adjoining my place on Mad Creek belonged to Dr. George Ives who ran a dude ranch (The Mad Creek Guest Ranch). Here is where my two children landed.

“Following the death of my wife, I shipped four carloads of cattle and cut my herd down to 50 head … I carried on for a period of 11 years by myself and did not get anywhere anymore, I ran my health down batching on that place.”

Heintze sold the ranch in 1944 during World War II to his neighbor Dr. George Ives and moved to Denver. 

Special thanks to Donna Heintze Davis, Katie Adams and Cheri Daschle for their research and information on Mad Creek area.

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

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