Thursday, June 25, 2015

History of Estes Park with Gossip, believe what you want

Estes Park has a long history of hosting tourists. In fact, primitive artifacts, dating back thousands of years, have been found in the surrounding area. Believed to be a summer camping, hunting and spiritual destination by primitive man, the area was then visited in the last three hundred years by the Ute, Arapaho and Cheyenne, among other recent tribes.
The first permanent Caucasian settlers were the Estes family in the 1860's. Bringing six of their thirteen children to Colorado, Joel and Patsy established a home on land now covered by Lake Estes. Isolated at first, they owned cattle and played host to an increasing number of straggling visitors. They eventually departed after a particularly hard winter just a few years later.
By the 1870's, Griffith Evans and his family had moved into the original homestead. Griff, who had an exuberant Welsh personality, also owned cattle, but built up the tourist industry with guest cabins and by offering guided fishing, hiking and hunting excursions. One of the frequent visitors was a nearby neighbor, Rocky Mountain Jim, who, believe it or not, was an educated and cultured mountain man-type, with a gift for stories and gab. And also, a bad temper at times.
Trouble came when Griff sold his homestead to the wealthy, pompous fourth Earl of Dunraven. Mountain Jim did not appreciate that Dunraven was now determined to turn the region into his own game preserve and made his opinion known. Jim lost the battle and Dunraven pursued an illegal land scheme to build up his own acreage until local settlers, including Alexander MacGregor, had had enough.
But before Dunraven had to admit defeat concerning his private preserve, he built a magnificent hotel along Fish Creek. The married Dunraven brought his mistresses and special wealthy guests to his mountain paradise for riding and game hunting. One can only imagine how weird it must have seemed to locals living a frontier life then viewing English riders jumping fences on well-bred mounts. Rumor has it that once Duraven was kicked out of his own hotel for indecent behavior with his mistress at the time. In any case, he was known for living a wild life style. He apparently quickly became bored with Estes Park, after not being allowed to pursue his own preserve, and wrote a derogatory letter about the lack of good help in his hotel. He rarely visited and eventually sold his land, possibly because he was having tax troubles, to businessman F.O. Stanley, of steamer car fame. Dunraven's hotel burned down in 1911. F.O. Stanley not only built his own grand hotel which hosts guests to this day, particularly those interested in its ghost legends, but also improved the roads and infrastructure of the town.
Though many of the original settlers in the 1870's planned on cattle ranching, they quickly learned that there was money to be had hosting the ever-increasing number of tourists to the town. Guest lodges began to flourish. The wildlife did not. By the end of the 1800's, grizzly bears, wolves and bison had been hunted from the region.
By the 1900's a group of individuals, including Enos Mills, began campaigning for a national park, a huge feat since miners, loggers, and cattle ranchers opposed the idea. Enos Mills was considered an early conservationist, though he would probably not qualify under today's standards since he sold orphaned bear cubs to the Denver zoo after their mother was killed under questionable circumstances. Finally in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was established. By then, Enos Mills was considered such a cantankerous individual that he was estranged from family and former friends.
The 1940's brought major public work projects such as the building of Lake Estes and the dam for water and power. One can only shudder at the thought of the environmental and historical destruction involved with the projects.
But mother nature also changed Estes Park. The major flooding in 1976, 1982, and 2013, not only brought renovations to the downtown area, but cost significant loss of life.
Nonetheless, Estes Park remains, as always, a favorite tourist destination.

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