Telling early Eagle County stories
With the publication of “Eagle County Characters: Historic Tales of a Colorado Mountain Valley,” local historian Kathy Heicher of Eagle has produced her second book about pioneers of the Eagle River Valley.
This week she offered insights about what inspired her second book and about the characters she chose to profile.
Vail Daily: This is your second local history book. What differentiates this effort from your earlier book?
Kathy Heicher: The first book was photo-oriented and specifically targeted the Eagle community. The new book is much more text-oriented and offers detailed stories about the lives of the early pioneers from Red Cliff to Dotsero.
VD: The title is “Eagle County Characters.” How did these particular ‘characters’ make it into the mix?
KH: The pioneers I selected for the book had unique stories that illustrate county history. For example, the mountain man John Root came west as a captive of the Utes. The Irish immigrant Sarah Doherty took a harrowing stagecoach ride from Red Cliff to Dotsero and then homesteaded her own cattle ranch. Gypsum pioneer Ed Slaughter was a daring fellow who was the first to drive a wagon over the stagecoach route that went from Red Cliff down the valley to Squaw Creek, then up over Bellyache to Brush Creek. These pioneers were amazing. Eagle County would not be what it is today without them.
VD: Do you have a personal favorite character?
KH: That would be like asking me to pick my favorite son. I love every one of the characters in this book. And I know I could have picked 10 different characters to write about and they would be just as interesting.
VD: What do you think readers will be surprised to learn from your book?
KH: The Doll brothers, prominent ranchers in the Gypsum Creek Valley, had a business partner who was a Chicago racketeer. No doubt he factored into their decision to get into the business of raising thoroughbred racehorses.
VD: You say in the introduction that many characters’ stories remain to be told. Do you hope to write those stories?
KH: If this book proves popular, I would love to capture the stories of some other early day families, such as the Reynolds/McCain families, the Olesons, or any of those Burns Hole ranching families. The first Mormon families to come to the valley have some interesting stories. The Nottingham family out of Avon would warrant an entire book of their own.
VD : How do you complete the research for your books?
KH: I spend many hours in the wonderful historical archives at the Eagle Public Library. Lots of information comes from old newspapers, some of which are accessible via the Internet. I track down descendants of the families who are willing to share stories and photos.
VD: Do you have words of advice for people who want to preserve or research their own family/community history?
KH: Interview your older relatives. Write it down. Label family photographs. And prepare to get addicted … it can be a lot of fun.
VD: What do you enjoy most about writing local history?
KH: Some of it is detective work, which is fun. It can be challenging. But I like knowing that I have helped to preserve somebody’s family history or some key bit of Eagle County history.
VD: What do you enjoy least about it?
KH: Writing a book is a lonely process. It is just me at the computer, bouncing ideas off of my husband and my dog (both of whom are very supportive — and either one can answer local history questions).
VD: Additional thoughts?
KH: I had a lot of help from some good sources ranging from Eagle Valley Library District Archivist Jaci Spuhler to the families who share their scrapbooks, photographs and stories. Local artists Mark Lemon and Jack Niswanger generously provided artwork. My friends broke up the solitude of the writing with invitations for hikes, snowshoeing, quilting and other fun stuff. I’m very grateful for the help.