Orion Wainwright Daggett was one of the downvalley's first settlers. He was only 18 years old when he traveled to Colorado from his native Indiana and pitched a tent four miles up Gypsum Creek in 1882.
While he homesteaded in the Gypsum area, Daggett made a name for himself through various business enterprises. He operated a general store in Gypsum until 1887 when he moved his family to Fulford where he dabbled in mining, operated a small store and acted as postmaster.
After a brief stint in Central City, Daggett returned to Gypsum where he served as an unofficial legal advisor.
In 1903, Daggett and his second wife, Harriet, launched a grocery store in Red Cliff. He also worked as an assayer and postmaster there.
Daggett was well known as a crusader. He served many terms on the Red Cliff school board. A man of strong opinions, he eventually found his calling when he purchased the Red Cliff newspaper, the Eagle County News, in 1920. He renamed the publication The Holy Cross Trail.
As a newspaper man, Daggett relentlessly crusaded for creation of a major highway between Denver and Red Cliff. He was the tireless promoter of the Mount of the Holy Cross pilgrimages popular during the 1920s and 1930s. He fiercely defended Red Cliff's position as the county seat during the two decade battle with the town of Eagle.
After the death of Harriet in 1940, Daggett sold the newspaper. Daggett died in 1942 and is buried in the Gypsum cemetery.
The first female judge in Colorado was Lydia Tague, who served as Eagle County Judge from 1911 to 1924.
Tague was born in 1868 in the Boulder Territory and moved to Red Cliff when she was 16. She married Patrick Tague, a former coal miner from Pennsylvania, in 1889. The couple operated a store in Red Cliff but lost the business in the Panic of 1893. Pat Tague was eventually elected county judge and served several terms.
When her husband died in 1911, Lydia Tague was left with five children to support. One week after her husband's death, the board of county commissioners appointed Lydia Tague to the vacancy. The Enterprise reported there were several aspirants to the office, and many were surprised by her appointment. Tague must have performed satisfactorily " she was elected to the position in 1912; and then won two additional terms.
Tague had a reputation as a fair but tough judge. She was a strong advocate of Prohibition. In 1924, Tague took over as district court clerk, a position she held for several years. Tague died in 1937 at the age of 69.
When she retired from the bench, The Enterprise declared "She proved to the skeptics that sex was no bar to judicial efficiency and no county of the state has had a county judge of whom they could point with greater pride than Eagle County."
Selma Kempf's dreams " the kind that come with sleep " changed the valley.
In 1910 Kempf, the wife of an Eagle rancher, dreamed of a great silver mine near Eagle. She reported the nighttime vision to her husband, Oscar, but he didn't share her enthusiasm. When Mrs. Kempf dreamed of the silver mine a second time, her husband took more interest and eventually staked a clam on Salt Creek. Initial exploration did not find anything of value.
In October of 1912, Mrs. Kempf had a third mine dream. About the same time, a local rancher noticed some unique looking rock formations on Horse Mountain. An assay revealed silver and copper in the rock.
When her husband told Mrs. Kempf about the find and described the area to her, she declared it the realization of her dream. Kempf staked a claim and eventually named his find the "Lady Belle mine." He told the Enterprise that the name honored his wife, "a lady and a belle."
While historical accounts indicate the mineral veins were shallow and the profits of the Lady Belle and surrounding mines were short-lived, headlines of the time predicted a boom. A special edition of the Enterprise predicted Eagle would grow from a farming town of 500 people to a mining town of 5,000 residents in a period of 60 days. Those numbers never materialized.
During its prime, from 1913 to 1918, the Lady Belle realized a profit of about $450,000. By 1921, the Lady Belle had closed down, although it remained the site of sporadic mining activity until 1960.
The Eagle County Regional Airport is a major economic engine for the region. Eldon Wilson is widely recognized as the man who first envisioned airplanes landing on a sagebrush flat located midway between the towns of Eagle and Gypsum.
Wilson, an Eagle businessman, first started talking about a local airport back in the 1930s. He persistently lobbied the county commissioners to fund the venture. By 1939, the Civil Aeronautical Authority was looking for emergency landing strips within the flyway that stretched from Denver to Los Angeles. Wilson called together a group of local businessmen to form an advisory committee. Airport supporters used borrowed county equipment to scrape out a road to the Cooley Mesa site, making the fledgling air field accessible by vehicle. The cost of the preliminary road work was $20.
Wilson and Wayne T. Jones, a former county commissioner, personally spent many hours leveling the airport area for a runway that would eventually reach 3,500 feel long and 300 feet wide.
Over the next five decades, Eagle County would acquire the airport property and expand the airport. In a 1947 dedication ceremony that included dignitaries such as Colo. Gov. Lee Knous and U.S. Senator Ed Johnson, Eldon Wilson was recognized as the man of the hour. One of the speeches that day noted Wilson "has worked often by himself, for many years and sometimes weary months, to see the time when this county would be able to offer the final product of a first class field, as another step forward to the expanding future of Eagle County."
Father and son Art and Harold Koonce's Eagle roots go back to the turn of the century. Their influence is still seen in the buildings they constructed and the causes they worked for.
Art Koonce arrived in Eagle in 1901 and his son Harold was born in 1916. In a family memoir, Harold described a "marvelous, old-fashioned childhood" in the town. After earning a business degree from the University of Colorado, Harold returned to Eagle and together with his father, opened the community's first automobile dealership in 1928.
Koonce Chevrolet was located at the corner of Second and Broadway in Eagle. (The building how houses Red Canyon High School.) For 30 years, the Koonces operated the business and held a distributorship with the Phillips Petroleum Company.
When Vail developed during the 1960s, Harold Koonce saw another business opportunity in wholesale supplies such as paper products and commercial cleaners for hotels and restaurants. He launched Hometown Supply, an Eagle business that continued for several decades.
Beyond their business acumen, the Koonces are remembered for their involvement in the community. Harold Koonce was one of a group of local businessman who pushed for the development of an airfield at Cooley Mesa. He was a founding member of the Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees. CMC credits Koonce with coming up with the college name.
Through the mid-1980s through the mid 1990s, Harold Koonce served on the Vail Valley Medical Center Board of Directors. He was instrumental in recruiting Dr. Richard Steadman and creation of the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic.
One of Harold Koonce's last contributions to the community was to write a manuscript titled "Rambling Recollections of Mid-Early Eagle." Now housed in the Eagle County Historical Society archives, the piece lovingly lives up to the prologue Koonce penned. "This narrative to come stems from the belief that Eagle is held in esteems by us old-timers as the finest small town in Western Colorado."
For more than 30 years, Fred Kummer of Adam's Rib fame was a public opinion lightning rod in Eagle.
In 1973 Kummer, the chief executive officer of HBE Corp., a Saint Louis, Mo. based development firm , proposed a four-season, resort development along East and West Brush Creek south of Eagle. Kummer's vision included a 14,000 skier resort on East Brush Creek and a golf course development downstream.
Adam's Rib inspired a heated battle for the next three decades. The proposal spawned thousands of hours of governmental review and reams of studies. In 1982, the U.S. Forest Service issued a special use permit for the ski area and in 1982, Eagle County approved a site plan for the development. Through the 1980s and 1990s, there were numerous extensions on governmental approvals, but in 1997, Kummer withdrew his application for the ski area development.
During the late 1990s, a new Adam's Rib plan was floated that would have included 1,612 homes, two 18-hole golf courses, two par-3 golf courses and a 120-room hotel on 5,164 acres along Brush Creek. In exchange for the town of Eagle's approval, Kummer proposed selling 1,782 acres of East and West Bush Creek to Colorado State Parks. The Eagle Town Board rejected the development proposal, but Kummer eventually agreed to sell the 1,782 acres to Sylvan Lake State Park for $14 million.
In 2007, Kummer finally developed Adam's Rib Ranch. The gated community located along Brush Creek includes 99 homesites on 1,663 acres and an 18-hole golf course. Last year, when asked to comment on his often-rocky history in Eagle County Kummer said, "We don't believe any opportunity was lost. We have learned many lessons from the growth of Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen over the years, realizing it was smart to appeal to the untapped market of people who desire open space and a return to nature instead of continuing the trend toward small lots in more congested areas."
To date, none of the homesites at Adam's Rib Ranch have sold.
Murray Wilson was known as "Mr. Sheriff" by the people of Eagle County during the 1930s and 1940s.
He was one of the best known and respected law officers in the state. "He worked during a more lusty era in the county " when selling and drinking whiskey was unlawful, during the construction days of the Dotsero Cutoff, during Camp Hale days in the 1940s," noted the Enterprise
Wilson was described as a compassionate and understanding man who "knew the heartbreak of many families and the shame and sin of others." He eschewed publicity, even turning down a feature request from the Saturday Evening Post.
Wilson retired as Eagle County Sheriff in 1959 and died two years later after a lengthy illness.
Jim Seabry was elected Eagle County Sheriff four times. A native of Leadville, Seabry went to work for the Colorado State Patrol in 1942. In 1947 he was transferred to the Eagle office, where he worked until 1958.
Seabry ran for sheriff after a friend showed up at his door with 75 petition signatures supporting his candidacy. Since he wasn't registered as a Democrat or a Republican, Seabry had to run as a write in candidate.
When he consulted a lawyer about his chances as a write-in candidate, Seabry was advised to talk to every living soul in the county.
"So I did, and I was elected. After than I could tell you damn near the name of every baby that had wet its pants in this county. You had to talk to everybody," said Seabry.
All that work paid off on Nov. 6, 1962 when Seabry beat the incumbent sheriff Democrat Hank Knuth and Republican challenger Fred Pierson. He collected 1,353 votes to Knuth's 407 and Pierson's 198, and served as sheriff for the next 16 years. His law enforcement formula was simple: "10 percent the letter of the law and 90 percent common sense and you'll be everybody's best friend." In 1978, Seabry was defeated by Jack Haynes.
Two years later, he ran unopposed for Eagle Mayor, a position he held for the next 12 years.
Jim Sherbondy and Delmar Spooner are arguably the most notorious criminals in Eagle County history. Both killed lawmen and touched off massive manhunts.
Sherbondy was only 17 years old when he shot Undersheriff Oscar Meyer of Red Cliff on Nov. 2, 1937. Meyer was unarmed when he stopped Sherbondy, who was a suspect in a Chicago armed robbery, on Tennessee Pass. When Meyer tried to arrest him, Sherbondy stepped out of the car with a gun in hand and fired twice, hitting Meyer in the chest.
Sherbondy then fled and remained at large for three weeks. He was eventually captured in Hastings, Neb.
The young man was convicted of murder in December, 1937. The sentencing judge called him a "depraved and wicked killer, like a wild and viscous animal." Sherbondy turned 18 on his first day of confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary.
Much of Sherbondy's prison years were spent in solitary confinement. But on New Year's Eve, 1947, he was one of a dozen inmates who escaped from the penitentiary. He holed up at a nearby farm where he held a family hostage. When one of the hostages, a seven-year-old boy, developed appendicitis, Sherbondy surrendered quietly so the boy could be treated. Hollywood eventually made a movie based on the incident.
Eventually, Sherbondy became a model prisoner who tutored kids at the state reformatory in Buena Vista. But in 1969, he walked away from a prison honor camp. A few weeks later, Denver police spotted him. After a car chase, Sherbondy was gunned down on the sidewalk outside the Denver Post newspaper. Police found two homemade pipe bombs in the bag he was carrying.
Delmar Spooner gunned down four law officers, killing two of them, along the Trough Road near State Bridge on July 12, 1961. The incident began when a biologist Robert Hoover of the State Game and Fish Department stopped to offer assistance when he saw a car parked along the road. When he noticed a rifle and an unusual amount of ammunition inside the car, Hoover radioed in a report and learned the vehicle was stolen.
State Patrol Lt. Hiram Short and Grand County Sheriff Chancy Van Pelt responded to the scene. When they attempted to arrest Spooner, he pulled out a gun, lined up the men and shot them. He then sped away toward State Bridge. Short died.
A passing motorist found the wounded men and Van Pelt was able to radio for help. Eagle County Undersheriff John Clark set up a barricade two mile east of State Bridge. When Spooner reached the area, he swerved his car into the side of the mountain and open fire, fatally wounding Clark.
A massive manhunt followed. After four days, Spooner was spotted near the railroad tracks near Copper Spur. He was eventually captured. The only explanation he gave for the shooting was "I just didn't want to go to jail."
Spooner was convicted of murder and sent to the penitentiary. He escaped from prison in 1981 and remained at large for 24 days before being captured by two elk hunters near Westcliffe.
When he died of cancer at age 64 in 1999, Spooner was described as the man who had been in a Colorado prison longer than anybody else.
According to many locals, Leonard Horn was a real-life Marlboro Man.
Horn was an Eagle County native who established his V-11 Ranch at Wolcott in 1931 when he was just 22 years old. He ranched the property until his death in 1988 at age 76 of internal injuries sustained after being thrown off a young horse.
Horn was very active in Republican politics and with numerous horse and cattle organizations. In 1965 Colorado State University honored him as Livestock Man of the Year. In 1981, he received the Colorado Cattlemen's Gold Award.
In his obituary, the Enterprise noted Horn "earned nationwide recognition for his efforts to preserve Western rangeland."
Hall of fame jockey Pat Day is the most successful athlete to ever come out of Eagle Valley High School.
Day grew up in Edwards on Lake Creek. He and his brother, Mike, worked on ranches and spent lots of time on horseback. At 4-feet, 11 inches, Day was too small for football and not fast enough for track, but he was a state champion wrestler for EVHS. After high school, Day was competing in the rodeo circuit when a man from Riverside Thoroughbred Fairgrounds in Colorado offered him a job.
"At the time, becoming a jockey was the furthest thing from my mind," Day said.
On July 29, 1973 Day won his first race. Over the next 22 years, he piled up a staggering record. He is the fourth all-time most successful jockey with 8,803 wins; and tops on the all-time money list with nearly $300 million in winnings. His resume includes nine Triple Crown race victories (five Preakness wins, three Belmont Stakes wins and one Kentucky Derby win). He also won 12 Breeders Cup races and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Today Day, who has retired from racing, works with the Race Track Chaplaincy of America program to provide spiritual outreach for people in the horse racing industry.