Take a Halloween stroll among Eagle County’s historic cemeteries
EAGLE COUNTY — They walk among us, or maybe we should walk among them.
A couple Eagle County cemeteries are the perfect place for the living to stroll on the Day of the Dead. We caught up with some folks from the Eagle County Historical Society, and while history is alive, most of the people who made history are not.
Greenwood Cemetery in Red Cliff
Take Red Cliff and Gypsum, for example.
Red Cliff is Eagle County’s oldest town and was the county seat from 1883 until 1921.
The town’s early residents were mostly miners, but some of the county’s most famous pioneers also are buried there. The first grave in the mountain cemetery is marked 1880. More than 600 people are buried, including some of the most notable (and sometimes notorious) pioneers of the county.
The lady judge
Lydia Tague made Colorado history in 1911 when she became the first woman in the state to be appointed as a county court judge. That appointment may have been in part prompted by economic necessity, and sympathy. Her husband, Patrick, had been serving as judge when he suddenly died. That left Lydia with five young children to raise.
She must have handled the job well. Voters elected her to the office in 1912 then re-elected her two more times. In total, she handed down judicial decisions for a dozen years.
Tague, a rather stern woman, was an ardent prohibitionist, with little tolerance for bootleggers. One Minturn bootlegger, who was apparently running a profitable business, didn’t blink when she fined him $250 for his transgressions. “I have the money in my pocket,” he said eagerly.
The annoyed Judge Tague then banged down her gavel, and announced that she was also imposing a six-month jail sentence.
“Do you have that in your pocket, too?” she reportedly asked the stunned defendant.
The treasure hunter
Arthur Fulford played many roles in the history of Eagle County. A big, powerful man, he served as Red Cliff town marshal in 1881-1882.
He was also one of the first prospectors in the New York Mountain area. Fulford left Red Cliff to ranch on Brush Creek, south of Eagle, and operate a stage stop for miners heading to the local mining camps. According to local lore, it was at that stage stop that a prospector told Fulford a tall tale of a lost gold mine in the district.
Fulford died in a snow slide on West Lake Creek on New Year’s Eve 1891. Many believed he had just discovered that lost gold mine when the avalanche killed him. Fulford died, but the legend of the lost gold mine lives on to this day.
Fulford’s grave marker is the most prominent monument in the Red Cliff cemetery.
The kindly doctor
Dr. Joseph Gilpin was a Civil War veteran who came to the Red Cliff mining camp in 1881, with the intent of practicing medicine. But he wasn’t there long before he became intrigued by the mining industry. For a couple of seasons, he and his partners prospected on East Lake Creek, searching for gold and silver.
But the ore veins were less than anticipated, and after a couple of years, Dr. Gilpin returned to Red Cliff, and served as the community’s doctor for nearly 40 years.
Out of necessity, Dr. Gilpin became an authority on the treatment of pneumonia, and was asked to present a paper on his methods at a meeting of the Colorado Medical Society in Denver.
A kindly man with a Santa Claus beard, Dr. Gilpin was a dedicated physician. He not only made house calls; he would trudge through deep snows with a sled to tend to miners in the area’s many mining camps.
Dr. Gilpin was sympathetic to the financial hardships of his clients, and often lowered prices or waived his fees altogether.
He apparently did not make a lot of money. His grave is marked only with a faded wooden tombstone, and a small metal sign from the mortuary.
The notorious Nottinghams
Nottingham is as prominent a name in the valley today as it was more than 100 years ago. The Nottingham family has a large grave plot in the Red Cliff cemetery, and those graves have stories to tell.
William H. Nottingham, a businessman and county commissioner, was killed in a 1892 shoot-out by his business partner, Ernest Hurd, during a quarrel over business and family matters.
Seven years later, Nottingham’s widow, Nancy Angeline, married Hurd.
Another grave in the Nottingham plot is that of Grace V. Nottingham, a woman of remarkable beauty and tempestuous relationships.
Grace made headlines after she shot and killed her fiancee during a lovers’ quarrel in 1904. A jury delivered a verdict of involuntary manslaughter and recommended clemency for the defendant. She was sentenced to 24 hours in the county jail.
Four years later, Grace was killed by her estranged husband, Harry Adler, in a murder-suicide.
Gypsum’s Cedar Hill Cemetery
Jake Borah, the renowned hunting guide who led President Teddy Roosevelt on a hunt in the Flat Tops wilderness in 1905, rests peacefully along the original road through the cemetery. The hunt was successful (10 bears and two bobcats), and the story-telling Borah developed camaraderie with the president that resulted in a long-lasting friendship.
South of Borah’s grave is a simple monument marking the resting place of John Root, one of the cemetery’s earlier inhabitants. Root was a true mountain man lured west by the gold rush of the 1850s. He traveled to Colorado with a tribe of Utes, eventually settling in a dugout near Red Creek on the Colorado River and living a life of simplicity.
The Doll family was prominent in the early years of Gypsum’s history. Brothers Frank and Sam Doll came to the Gypsum Valley in 1887 and immediately recognized the potential of the sagebrush-covered valley. Within a few years, the Dolls had developed a 1,600-acre ranch and a racing stable where they raised thoroughbred horses.
Nestled under the pine trees and cottonwoods of the graveyard are some of the businessmen and community leaders who helped turn a sagebrush flat into a bustling ranch community. The tour of the cemetery will include stops at the graves of Theodore Stremme, the town’s first mayor; J.P. Oleson, an immigrant from Norway who became a prominent storekeeper and banker; and James Norgaard, a Danish immigrant and teacher whose wife was the first woman to settle in Gypsum.
Tucked back among the earliest graves in the far corner of the cemetery is Charley Johnson’s resting place. Johnson was a hot-tempered cattleman who ranched at Dotsero. His name was linked with a couple of murders, arson and some missing cattle. He was generally feared and ultimately met his end in a frontier-justice kind of way.
Two of the town’s pioneers are buried across a gulch outside of the cemetery boundary. Rancher Ed Slaughter and crusading newspaper editor O.W. Daggett were close friends and community rabble-rousers. They remain as near to each other in death, as they were in life.