Seldom-used Sunnyside Road runs through Eagle County’s past
Ryan Summerlin October 11, 2013
The Sunnyside Road, Route 3, is a seldom-used road in Eagle and Routt counties that is rather unique — worthy of a day’s exploration and perhaps a take-along picnic to complete the experience. Local ranchers, ardent hunters, cowboys and snowmobilers know about this road, but it is generally not known or used by the general public. In the summertime, the dirt road is very manageable with a vehicle of high clearance or 4×4 capability, but city slickers are advised to proceed with caution.
The Sunnyside Road is also the burial site of a W.H. Hanner (1830-1911). Hanner’s gravesite is the basis of this story, but before proceeding, the location of Sunnyside Road needs explanation.
The Sunnyside Road, Route 3, is off Derby Road from Burns, along the Colorado River Road. At the Burns Post Office and the adjacent Baptist Church, take Derby Road up the gulch, past Luark Ranch Road. You top out into a vast ranching valley. If you’re lucky to see them, the lower gulch is home to a herd of Rocky Mountain sheep. At the top of the gulch, a few ranches are in sight, but look for Route 3, a dirt road off to your right. This road switches back and forth through pinion pines and deer country and eventually tops out again looking over another vast valley.
As you proceed through this rather barren sage brush area and open range, off to your left, way off in the distance across the valley floor, one can see large areas of pasture. This is ranch land belonging to the Nottingham, Gates, Albertson and Zastrow ranches, to mention a few.
There is a fork in the road going to the left, County 3A, which is a dead end. The area leads to open range where cattle graze, and there are some aspen groves, as well as dark timber. The Skiles Homestead is located at the end of this road. At the junction of No. 3 and 3A, one can see cattle pens and corrals in the distance, as well as the old Benton Cow Camp, which is part of the Notthingham holdings. A few cowboys in their pickup trucks are usually holed up at this location and there are cattle grazing. Approaching the cattle pens, one crosses a small creek and the grave site of W.H. Hanner comes into view on the left.
Who was Hanner?
The site is on a slight bluff looking at the surrounding territory. Perhaps Hanner or his family thought wisely of this site. But there is no record of Hanner in the records of Eagle or Grand counties. Who was Hanner? The dates on his gravesite read 1830 to 1911 — very unusual dates. The green paint on his wooden sign suggests rather recent attention, yet the rails are showing age.
Hanner was born in 1830, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, a man called the “Great Commoner.” It was a unique time period in our history. Hanner certainly didn’t know of Jackson or Joseph Smith, the organizer the Mormon Church. He most likely didn’t know about the opening of the Erie Canal; the first locomotive, “Tom Thumb;” or Congress’ approval of the relocation of Native Americans, resulting in the Trail of Tears. The American population was still centered east of the Ohio Valley, along the Appalachian and Smoky mountains.
In 1848, an easy year to remember in history, Hanner would have been 18 years old. At that age, a young man would have had family responsibilities or perhaps gone West. Maybe he heard about the Gold Rush at Sutters Mill in California. He may have read newspaper articles about the revolutions in numerous European nations, in particular Paris and Berlin. Perhaps he had an Irish family member mention the potato famine in Ireland. The diaspora of Irishmen to this country was noticeable on the frontier. Or perhaps he even heard about Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” of 1848. Perhaps he knew of the end of the Mexican-American War and knew some Texans. Where was Hanner in 1848? Was he already in this area? What was he doing? Zebulon Pike called this territory the Great American Desert in 1806. The territory of Kansas did not exist on paper in 1848; neither did the state of Colorado.
The date 1860 is also significant in our history — the start of the American Civil War. Hanner would have been 30 years old. He would have been called upon to serve or at least volunteer. Was he a Unionist or Confederate? Was he involved as a soldier? Was he a frontiersman out West, out of touch, not unlike the character Kevin Costner played in the movie “Dance With Wolves?” He was in the prime of his life. Was he ranching, farming or mining in this territory? The state of Colorado did not exist until President Ulysses S. Grant signed the documents in 1876. What was Hanner doing in 1860 and beyond?
On the road
With Hanner’s death in 1911, he would have been 81 years old, certainly a respectable age at the turn of the century. Perhaps he was involved in the Colorado gold rush of 1859 in Idaho Springs or a bit later in the silver boom in Leadville. His death was a year before the sinking of the Titanic. Perhaps Hanner saw one of Henry Ford’s Model Ts of 1908. One would guess that Hanner would have been a landowner and rancher in this county at the time of his death. Horse and wagon was the normal means of transportation. But there are no records as I write this. Who was W.H. Hanner? Let your mind ponder those facts as you view his gravesite.
As you continue the drive beyond Hanner’s gravesite, you gain elevation. Cattle grazing is more pronounced, still on open ranges. Elk hunting and snowmobiling in the wintertime is a pastime here. Off to your right, the backside of King Mountain comes into view. There is the wagon-wheel gate of a Sunnyside lodge on the right, which more than likely belongs to a hunting lodge. As you top the “pass” and drop into Routt County, there is a old homestead to your left, and then you hit the main road at the bottom of the hill, which will take you past Kaiser Ranch and other ranch properties to Toponas. On the way home, you can let your mind wander. Who was W.H. Hanner, and why was he buried way out here in the “outback” along Sunnyside Road?
A fellow researcher, Rick Spitzer, found a brief record mentioning Hanner (also known as Hanna) in the Yampa Valley of Routt County, which he passed on to me after I had written this story. That information can be found at http://bit.ly/1fk6DX7.
Raymond A. Bleesz lives in Edwards.