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From Trappers to Tourists by Rosemae Wells Campbell

Review by Ed Quillen

Local History – September 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

From Trappers to Tourists – Frémont County 1830-1950
by Rosemae Wells Campbell
Originally published in 1972
Third printing in 1998
by the Frémont-Custer Historical Society
ISBN 0-9663842-0-2

DESPITE THE CLAIMS of some Arvada boosters that “Colorado history started here” with the 1850 discovery of gold at Ralston Creek, that nugget came several years after Americans were already farming and trading along Hardscrabble Creek in the area of present Wetmore.

If Colorado’s history as part of the United States can be said to start anywhere, it would be along the Arkansas River — the border between the United States and Mexico until 1848, when Mexico lost the Mexican War and its northern provinces.

Americans were in evidence along the river as early as the 1820s, and in 1832 the Bent brothers built the fort that bears their name along the river’s banks.

Looking to settle down, more or less, some of the trappers and traders associated with the Bents started farming along Hardscrabble Creek, and even supported a general store for a while.

Thus did Anglo settlement begin in Colorado, as Rosemae Wells Campbell makes clear in From Trappers to Tourists, a Frémont County history first published in 1972, and now just released in its third printing.

She divides the account into three sections: Early Days, Routing the Rails, and Royal Gorge and Westward, and then provides a wealth of local lore, organized by both geography and chron olog y.

Here I found details of matters I’d heard about, like Old Mose, the last grizzly in this part of the state:

“Old Mose was estimated to have killed some 800 cattle and horses between 1870 and 1904. He headquartered near Black Mountain, ranging from Tarryall to Cochetopa Pass about once every 30 days according to a representative of the U.S. Biological Survey. He was credited with killing three men and may have killed eight or nine or more. One of his victims was Jake Radcliff, an experienced hunter. Old Mose charged him in 1883, crunched his right leg in his powerful jaws, and tossed the mangled man into the air. Radcliff’s companions carefully carried him to the Mulock Ranch but he died of his wounds despite their care.

“Old Mose was shot many times and trapped once but suffered only the loss of two toes. He continued to terrorize the neighborhood until James W. Anthony arrived in Cañon City with 30 dogs he had used to kill 16 bears in Idaho. When the dogs found Old Mose, Anthony, after several shots, finally managed to lodge a bullet in the beast’s brain on April 30, 1904….”

The maps are excellent and Campbell’s prose reads well in general.

But this book has a problem common to local histories — the author tries to get in so many names that the narrative sometimes gets lost in the tangle. So it can be slow reading for those of us who aren’t familiar with prominent Cañon families like Rockafellow and Hardy.

No matter what you’re looking for, though, if it happened in Frémont County between 1830 and 1950, you’re likely to find it here — and quickly, thanks to a good index.

Considered as a reference, rather than a narrative, then this is a fine and useful book. But it’s not smooth casual reading.

— Ed Quillen