History Colorado to award locals for work in preserving Alfred Borah photos and journals from 1882 to 1917
Eagle County Historical Society, Eagle Valley Library District to be honored
The journals of Brush Creek settler Alfred Borah, brother of famed Theodore Roosevelt hunting guide Jake Borah, are now searchable and available to the public thanks to a project from the Eagle County Historical Society and the Eagle Valley Library District.
Those groups are set to be recognized by History Colorado on Sunday, Aug. 1, where they will be honored with an award that recognizes historic preservation projects.
The Borah brothers settled in the area in 1882, and that’s when Alfred – a meticulous note taker – started keeping a journal of his daily activities.
“You have parts that are dull, but then you have parts that are really exciting,” said local historian Kathy Heicher. “They camped year round, they camped in December and January in outfitter tents, and they traded hides with the Ute Chief Colorow.”
Descendants of Alfred Borah contacted the historical society, which contacted the Eagle Library, and an effort began to preserve the journals.
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“We have a partnership with the historical society where we will collect photographs, documents, correspondence, postcards, and we will work to digitize them and put them in our digital archive,” said Matthew Mickelson with the Eagle Valley Library District. “And then the historical society will take the items that they can put on display in the museum.”
Along with the journals was a collection of photos, Heicher said, which are of great value to historians because they’re all properly labeled, thanks to Alfred Borah’s daughter, Alda.
“Alda was obsessive with photographs and saving things,” Heicher said.
Confirms historical rumor
The journals tell the story of how Alda came to be, as Borah pursuers a seven-year courtship with a woman in Leadville.
“Some of it is very touching,” Heicher said. “That was his second wife; he buried his first wife on his birthday, and every year he makes note of that, and how sad he is.”
Borah eventually convinces Mary, his Leadville love interest, to homestead with him in Eagle.
“And when they finally decide to get married, he goes to the town of Leadville to buy her a ring, and he’s taking a train from Leadville to Glenwood to meet a hunting client, but it’s an express train, it doesn’t stop in the little towns, it just slows down, so he arranges for her to stand by the side of the train, and he throws this box with this engagement ring in it out of the moving train, and she catches it,” Heicher said.
Heicher is currently writing a book about the town of Gypsum and said the Borah archive has been very helpful.
“I’ve used it a lot to verify information, and also it turns up new information,” she said. “He confirms stuff we had only heard of as historical rumors – the murder of a rancher on Brush Creek by a member of the Abrams family, the death of a man in a mining accident in Fulford – so it’s just this treasure trove of stuff.”
Able to remain intact
When Matthew Mickelson learned that the Eagle Valley Library District employed a local history librarian, and that position was available, he became quite excited for the opportunity.
As a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a masters degree in library and information sciences, with an emphasis in archiving, Mickelson well knew that not all library districts employ local historians.
“It just sounded really interesting, working with local history, having that librarian piece and that local history piece together in one position is definitely unique,” he said.
When Mickelson took on the job three years ago, the Borah journals had been rediscovered, and the family and the historical society had agreed it would be best to see them scanned into the Eagle Valley Library District’s digital archive.
But there was some reluctance to do so, given the fact that Borah’s journals would need to be disassembled to be scanned.
“Our big concern was, if we do scan these journals on a flat bed scanner, they’re going to be completely destroyed,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson applied for a grant through the Colorado Historic Records Advisory Board for a specialized scanner which could digitize the journals while keeping them intact. The library district received the grant and purchased the scanner.
Then the work really began.
“We got all the pages scanned, and we initially got them online and thought this is cool, but that old handwriting is hard to read,” Heicher said. “We’re gonna need transcripts.”
Thousands of pages
The journals run from 1882 to 1917.
A volunteer came forward to work on transcribing, “but this was in the start of COVID, and unfortunately we weren’t allowed to have volunteers in the library for a few months,” Mickelson said. “There were two batches of journals that were donated, the first donation consisted of eight journals … about 1,200 pages of text.”
Mickelson started working every day, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., transcribing the journals.
“His handwriting is very small, and sometimes it is a little illegible, but after going through about 10 or 15 pages, I was able to compare letters, compare words, and figure out what the words were and what he means,” Mickelson said.
Currently, the scanned pages can be found at evld.org. Once in its final form on that site, the journals themselves will be keyword searchable thanks to Mickelson’s efforts in transcribing.
The History Colorado awards, named for Coloradans Josephine Miles and Caroline Bancroft, have recognized and advanced Colorado history throughout the state since 1987.
After learning that the Eagle County Historical Society and the Eagle Valley Library District would be receiving the award, Mickelson said he was able to talk to Alfred Borah’s great granddaughter and let her know they were being recognized.
“We’re very appreciative to her, because had she not have found these journals and contacted us, none of this would have been possible,” Mickelson said.