Tales from the Tread: ‘The Tread of Pioneers’
April 5, 2016
"I hear the tread of pioneers
Of nations yet to be,
The first low wash of waves where soon
Shall roll a human sea."
— John Greenleaf Whittier
The Tread of Pioneers Museum was named after the book, "The Tread of Pioneers," copyright 1945, by Charles H. Leckenby, longtime editor and publisher of the Steamboat Pilot. A man of the written word, Leckenby was compelled to record the facts and stories of the first 75 years of history in Steamboat Springs through his bird's-eye-view publishing the newspaper.
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Though this premier historical resource is now out of print, copies can be purchased through online used booksellers and are available for loan from the Bud Werner Memorial Library and Tread of Pioneers Museum.
Leckenby, originally from Mississippi, landed his job at the Steamboat Pilot in September 1889, just a few days after he literally walked into Routt County over Buffalo Pass and down the Soda Creek drainage. Leckenby worked tirelessly for nearly 60 years to make the Steamboat Pilot an award-winning publication and what the Rocky Mountain News described as "one of the truly great small-town newspapers in the country."
Leckenby was an early Northwest Colorado history enthusiast, and just five years before his death, he published "The Tread of Pioneers." The book chronicles the founding of Steamboat Springs and its early growth, gold mining at Hahn's Peak, the removal of the Utes from their native land, local and national politics and dozens of other people, stories and events of significance in early Northwest Colorado.
One fascinating chapter in the book, titled "Recollections of a Pioneer Woman," features stories shared by Steamboat Springs' founding mother, Mrs. James H. (Margaret) Crawford. Though we can only begin to imagine the trials and tribulations the young Crawford family experienced traveling into the frontier west, up and over the mighty Rocky Mountains, before the days of roads and any modern conveniences, Margaret's memories shed light on the harsh realities:
"On the first day of May, 1873, we left our home near Sedalia, Missouri, to come to Colorado. There were seven large wagons and two hacks, four families and several young men. We arrived in Denver on the 4th of June (five weeks later). On the way across, we saw thousands of buffalo and herds of antelope. We killed and ate lots of meat.
"Two days before we reached Denver, our horses were stampeded by the Indians in the early morning while the boys were grazing them. There was a heavy fog. The horses broke loose from the boys and came to camp.
"We crossed high streams, the teams getting into quicksand and going under water with wagons attached to them so they couldn't swim. Such was the case when we crossed Sand Creek … we soon discovered we had camped over a rattlesnake den.
"We were told that we could never get over the range with the loaded wagon, for there had only been a light express wagon over it to Hot Sulphur Springs. We had started, and as many of you know, Mr. Crawford never went backward. So we showed them instead of being shown. We reached Hot Sulphur Springs and camped until we built our cabin.
"We covered the cabin with bark until Mr. Crawford could find a good tree to rive some boards to cover it. During the summer, for about a month, it rained almost every afternoon. The bark had cracked open, and we hadn't a dry place to keep anything. Our children (ages 7, 4 and 1) had the scarlet fever in this house. We put a wagon sheet over the bed to keep them dry."
The book is full of recollections and stories such as these, which offer a rare glimpse into the founding and development of Northwest Colorado. Leckenby, true to his mission, has provided future generations a true gift of history that instills a reverence for those whose footsteps we follow.
In the forward of "The Tread of Pioneers," Leckenby includes a quote from the State Historical Society that sums up Leckenby's drive and ambition in all of his pursuits:
"No nation is greater than the sum total of its past. The state, the country, the city and the village each contributes to that total. The history of all of these and their builders constitute background — the collective pride and glory of a people."
Candice Bannister is executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.