One old settler said “The dust from the Indians ponies hadn’t settled when I came to this mesa” –and that was more or less true, because when General McKenzie moved the Indians out on September 2, 1881, white settlers poured into what is now Delta County. A few more daring pioneers had come earlier.
Most of these first settlers came from the surrounding mining camps; though used to hardships they found this county wild and unpromising.
There were no bridges, of course, and roads were only trails except for the wagon road known as the government road which forded the Gunnison River where the present Cory Grade Bridge si. After climbing up onto Surface Creek Mesa, the road more or less followed the winding course of Surface Creek up onto Grand Mesa. This road was built by U.S. Government Troops from the military camp north of Ouray to Military Park and Leon Lake. There camps were maintained for a time to prevent the southern Ute Indians from joining the White River Ute Tribes who were responsible for the massacre of the Meeker settlement in 1879.
This road was declared a county road on July 2, 1883, by the board of Delta County Commissioners. In 1896 the farmers of Surface Creek Mesa built the first bridge at the mouth of Tongue Creek across the Gunnison River. This bridge was replaced with a wider modern bridge in 1937-38 creek just below where Cedaredge is no located; but soon after, he and Frank McKenzie claimed the land in Harts Basin. Captain Spalding and Mrs. Kennicott both claimed land along Surface creek, south of the present sight of Eckert. These two places are still owned and operated by members of their respective families.
The number of Surface Creek roads and bridges increased with the growth of the county-being built as the need for them arose. As years passed, all roads, particularly the old government road were improved somewhat from time to time. In 1921 this main road up to Cedaredge was graveled. In 1939 the first pavement was laid from the Gunnison River to Eckert. In 1952 the road was widened to meet state highway requirements and a new pavement was laid to Eckert. In 1956 this work of widening and paving was completed to Cedaredge.
Among the first settlers to claim land on Surface Creek Mesa were captain William Spalding, and his daughter Olivia; his sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Kimball; John Hart, Frank McKenzie, W. A. Shepherd, John Willbanks, Pierre Settle and John Trickle. Also John Hall, James Stell, Mrs. Eugenia Kennicott, and four sons, Will, Harold, Con and Jim.
A short time later the number of settlers was augmented by the arrival of John Brown, Jonathan Weir, Alfred Botsford, Erick Johnson, William Kaiser and Jesse Hart. Also Frank Castle and two sons, Herbert and Newton; Henry Teachont, Adelbert States, Richard Griffith, John Griffith, John Young, William and Richard Forrest, Charles Estes, William Rowan, Fred Burritt, and Frank Rist. Before the year 1900 arrived there were many more settlers.
James Stell spent his first winter trapping on Surface Creek. He sold 100 beaver pelts to Harvey Lewis of Ouray, Colorado, for $300. Today one must be licensed government trapper to kill or trap beaver, and only animals that damage ditches or crops may be taken.
John Hart camped first on the creek just below where Cedaredge, Colorado, is now located; but soon after, he and Frank McKenzie claimed the land in Harts Basin. Captain Spalding and Mrs. Kennicott both claimed land along Surface Creek, south of the present sight of Eckert, Colorado. These two places are still owned and operated by members of their respective families.
Pierre Settle claimed 160 acres which later became the nucleus of the large holdings of the Bar I Cattle Company, Settle was the first manage of the Bar I and brought the first range cattle to Surface Creek-500 cows with calves.
Succeeding Settle as manager was Henry Kohler. His wife Sophie named the ranch “Cedar Edge.” A large part of this ranch was later cut up into building lots and became the sight of the present town of Cedaredge. (The two words of the name combined by the U.S. Post Office Department for the first post office in December 1894 — (Eckert was named for the maiden name of Mrs. Adelbert States whose husband established the first store and post office here in 1891.)
In 1883 or 1884 the Figure Four Cattle Company in Harts Basin was organized by S. S. Baldwin and later operated by A. C. Botsford.
These big cattle companies used open range for cattle grazing and it was not necessary to feed even in the winter, except a few head of weaker animals. A few of the settlers turned cattle into the range also, but for some reason stock belonging to ranchers either died or disappeared during the summer and it was not a profitable business for the man with only a few head of cattle.
None of these big cattle companies exist today.
The U. S. Forest Service controls all grazing rights in the national forest. These grazing privileges are granted by the Government Permit to ranchers, whose herds are governed as to size by the Forest Service.
Thousands of cattle now graze through the summer months on Grand Mesa – but there is no open winter ranges, excepting the public domain grazing rights established under the Taylor Act. All stock is owned by farmers and ranchers in this immediate locality.
Sheep and hogs also have contributed to the development of the county. The fattening of lambs, hogs, and cattle for market are all thriving industries on Surface Creek Mesa today.
In the fall of 1884, Captain William Spalding taught a short term of school in a cabin about one mile east of the present community house at Cory, Colorado. School directors were John Brower, John Grow and James Stell.
The school district was No. 9 and included all land from the upper crossing of Surface Creek-about eight miles above Cedaredge — on the north, to the Gunnison River on the South, then from Rogers Mesa on the East to the head of Doughspoon Creek on the west.
In 1885, the first school building was erected near Cory. Built of hewn logs it was 18 x 30 feet. A levy of 30 mills was voted and paid in cash. Mr. Grow was the only man whose land had been patented so his proportion of the tax was very large — $72.
In the spring of 1885 Captain Spalding taught a term of school in a room of the log house east of Eckert occupied by William Forrest and his wife, Angie (Weir) Forrest. A short time later School District 18 was organized. A log school house, the Trickle School, was built about three miles north of Eckert on land belonging to John Shelleday. This school was discontinued in 1926.
In the fall of 1901 District 18 built a three-room school house one mile south of Eckert, a point believed to be about the center of the district. This “Central School” was used as a grade school. High school students attended classes in Delta.
In 1910, the first two years of high school — maintained by tuition paid by students- were taught in one room of the Central School by Mrs. Bill Gleasman. The following year the school districts assumed the expense of this high school with J. A. Hunsicker as teacher. In 1912 the new brick building at Eckert was constructed were a full four-year high school course was offered. J. A. Hunsicker was superintendent. In 1942 the Eckert and Cedaredge high schools were consolidated and Eckert students were taken by bus to Cedaredge. It was at this time that the old Central School building was abandoned and the Eckert grade school moved into the brick building. Later on the eighth grade was moved to Cedaredge to the junior high school there.
In 1892 Father Clark, a Baptist missionary, came to Eckert and by subscription raised money to build the first church on the Surface Creek Mesa. The land for the church was donated by Albert Weir. This Baptist church, now remodeled, still stands at Eckert, next to the cemetery.
Eric Johnson and his family came to Eckert in 1883. In 1885 his wife died and was buried on his farm. Later his daughter, Mrs. Frank Wier, when her husband died, gave the land around her mother’s grave for the Eckert Cemetery.
In May, 1903, a Presbyterian Church was organized at Eckert as a mission from the Delta Presbyterian Church. Dr. Frothingham of the Delta Church conducted services each Sunday afternoon in the Central school house for a number of years.
This organization was dissolved in April, 1907. However, in 1913 the church was re-organized with the Reverend J. A. Hunsicker as pastor. In the fall of 1915 ground was broken for a beautiful rock church which stands in Eckert today.
Work on the building was only well begun, however, when the First World War stopped all building activity. It was not until 1919 that work was resumed. Moss covered rocks for the building were hauled from the surrounding fields and hills by members of the congregation, both men and women. With the help and direction of one skilled mason, the men of the church laid the walls. The work was completed in 1921 and the building dedicated as a Presbyterian Church.
During the fall of 1945 the congregation undertook to raise money for the erection of manse built of similar moss rock and in 1949 this building was completed.
***************************************************************************************************The first store in Eckert was operated by Adelbert States who was responsible for the naming of the settlement, Eckert. He was succeeded in that office by A. L. Reynolds who with Newton Castle bought the grocery and dry goods business from him. Mr. Castle sold his interest in the store later to W. E. Steel. This store has served the community continuously since it was first opened by Mr. States.
Very early in the settlement of the mesa, probably about 1890, Captain Winton developed the Winton Coal Mine northwest of Eckert and furnished coal to Surface Creek settlers. All fuel up to this time had been cedar and pinion wood.
About 1915 A. L. Reynolds, operator of the Eckert Store, opened a creamery in a small addition erected on the north side of his store. J. C. (Bud) McMurry was the first manager of this creamery. Butter packaged there was sold in Western Slope towns under the name “Grand Mesa Gold.”
This creamery later became the Surface Creek Co-operative Creamery which after a few years became associated with the Challenge Creamery Association thus assuring a market for any amount of butter made.
Almost from the beginning of the settlement of the mesa, fruit trees have been planted by farmers and ranchers. Captain Spalding set out some of the first ones, a small home orchard – hence the name “Orchard Ranch Ditch” for his ditch.
George Childs in 1882 set out on his ranch on lower Surface Creek Mesa what may be called the first large orchard in this locality.
(Continued….May 3, 2012)
Delta County Independent